Not our government’s response to the coronavirus danger, certainly: That has been most exemplary.
And I want to look at this first, before I describe the contemptible situation we have also been dealing with.
Israel, as it turns out, responded more quickly than other countries to the impending threat of the virus. Some thought Prime Minister Netanyahu was over-reacting. But he wasn’t. He took his advice from experts that he trusted, including Director General of the Ministry of Health Moshe Bar Siman-Tov (pictured), Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman, and head of the National Security Council Meir Ben-Shabbat.
Last Saturday – a long time ago already as the situation is unfolding – Netanyahu said:
“First of all, this is a global pandemic, whether the CDC [Center for Disease Control] calls it such or not (it had not, yet)… It is doubtful whether there has been a similar pandemic in the last 100 years. It seems that the rate of infection is greater than we figured…
“The assumption that the virus will disappear or evaporate in hot weather is unproven. At the moment, this has no basis that we can build on. The virus is currently spreading to Africa. There is no vaccine and anti-viral drugs are ineffective…”
Step by step, actions were taken. In the early stages of the impending crisis, Israel did more to limit travel from other countries than any other nation and took action more quickly.
At this point, our doors are closed except for returning Israelis, who must go into quarantine, gatherings of more than 100 people are being forbidden, and people are encouraged to avoid handshakes and kissing. Universities are trying to set up video classes and corporations are urging employees to work from at home.
It has been explained that the measures that have been set in place were not intended to stop the penetration of the virus into Israel, but to slow it.
This is in order to avoid overtaxing Israel’s hospitals and health infrastructures. Israel has a finite number of hospital beds, respirators, and lung specialists. Thus the rate at which Israelis fall ill is a critical factor in keeping them alive. If infection is kept at levels which the health infrastructure can accommodate, survival rate will be much higher.
Our prime minister – obviously exhausted from hours of consultations and planning – has been able to project a note of tough realism regarding what is coming, coupled with optimism regarding the ability of Israel to successfully contend with this.
“It will get harder before it gets better” he advised yesterday (Tuesday).
“In Israel our situation is better than in most countries. We have taken measures that many countries have not. But the challenge is great.”
He let us know about consultations he has had (emphasis added):
“I also spoke today with Dr. Deborah Birx, who is responsible for the war on the pandemic in the US. She praised our organization and she speaks with many countries. I also spoke with the Indian Prime Minister, my friend Narendra Modi. We also depend on supply lines and we are working with other countries. We are in contact with them all the time…”
And he provided guidelines, regarding hygiene, not pushing into crowds, etc.: “We love to embrace. We love to shake hands. We love to kiss. No more…”
Here he demonstrated an alternate way of greeting people:
“I believe that we can overcome this crisis. The fact is that we are functioning better than almost any other country in the world, and this is thanks to you, thanks to the policy that have enacted and thanks to the self-discipline that you – citizens of Israel – are showing.
“With G-d’s help and the cooperation of all of us, we will overcome this crisis.”
It should be noted, as well, that Israel has established a $2.8 billion fund to assist businesses that will be hurt by the current restrictions, to bolster the health system as needs arise, and the police.
“I consulted with the Finance Minister, the Governor of the Bank of Israel and others…
“The Israeli economy is in a good situation, even very good, due to high growth, low unemployment, the debt-to-GDP ratio…The financial system and the banks are very strong and stable. Israel is entering this crisis in an excellent economic situation and these are the first steps that we have taken…if we need to, and we apparently will, will give more and we have the wherewithal to do so…”
So what I am seeing is an experienced prime minister who is handling the crisis exceedingly well and communicating the right tone to the people. He deserves the gratitude of every Israeli. Minister of Health Litzman has praised him highly for his tireless devotion to this work, day and night.
My opinion, and it is hardly mine alone, is that this is a time to put aside political rivalries and to announce a readiness to stand with the prime minister, as he leads the country through a period of exceptional difficulty.
But of course, his political adversaries, who are beneath contempt, have been headed in another direction.
In fact, while Netanyahu was working to reassure our nation and to set policies in place that will keep us strong and allow us to move past the crisis – at the very same time! – these political adversaries were working to undermine him and take him down.
The leaders of the Blue & White party: Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon (what a grievous disappointment!), and Gabi Ashkenazi (a small player in this scenario). There are those who say that Lapid pulls the strings, and Gantz takes the orders.
Ya’alon, Gantz, Lapid and Ashknazi
Apparently, there was expectation that Avigdor Lieberman, whose behavior has been consistently reprehensible these past couple of years, would join them.
What brings them together is a visceral, irrational hatred of Bibi Netanyahu that makes them determined to bring him down, no matter at what cost.
A few days ago, while coronavirus was gaining strength, Gantz crowed, “We’re moving forward.”
But for him what did that mean?
Much of this I have already explained.
Blue & White, the meager left wing bloc and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu combined come to 47 mandates, while 61 mandates are necessary to form a coalition. The only way to achieve a coalition is via the involvement of the (Arab) United List. The LIst has 15 mandates in total, but it was expected that Balad – with three mandates – would not be involved.
Blue & White had said they would not establish a government with the help of the Arabs.
But note what Moshe Ya’alon ‒ head of the Telem faction of Blue & White ‒ has now said to Army Radio:
“Election results place a dilemma before us: what election promises to violate. In this situation, removing Netanyahu [from office] is the top priority. We have no choice but to accept support from the Joint List.”
In other words, taking down Netanyahu justifies proceeding along a path that is enormously dangerous to Israel as a Jewish state.
If this is not a position that is beneath contempt, I do not know what is.
Actually, there are two steps to what Blue & White had hoped to do:
President Rivlin is supposed to be meeting next week with representatives of each party that will have representation in the Knesset, in order to learn who they would recommend to be prime minister. The count is by the number of mandates of the party.
The logic of Blue & White is that if more mandates would be registered for Gantz than for Netanyahu, Rivlin might feel constrained to give Gantz the first opportunity to form a coalition. This is not a sure thing: for Likud garnered 36 mandates in the election compared to 33 for Blue & White.
At any rate, Blue & White is looking for support from the United List in this regard.
With the 47 mandates of Blue & White, Yisrael Beitenu and the left bloc, and an additional 12 mandates from the United List (minus Balad), they could presumably achieve 59 mandates, one more than the right bloc can achieve.
This would be followed by formation of a minority government, with backing of the United List from the opposition.
But on the way to actualizing this first step, they ran into a problem:
Two members of Blue & White — Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel of Ya’alon’s Telem faction – balked at cooperating with the Arabs.
Gantz, as well as Ya’alon and other members of Blue & White are furious with them, calling them traitors to the cause.
Hauser (left) and Hendel
Plus, MK Orly Levy-Abekasis pulled her Gesher party out of the left wing alliance with Labor and Meretz, because she would not sit in a minority coalition backed by the Arab-majority Joint List.
Levy-Abekasis said such a minority “violates basic norms and values.”
Without actually naming Gantz, she accused him of breaking his promise to voters and “shamefully being willing to pay any price to anybody in order to form a minority government.”
Bravo! How refreshing.
Now this left Blue & White in a bit of a quandary, for if Levy-Abekasis, Hendel and Hauser all withhold their support for Gantz as prime minister, they are down to 56. Unless, unless they include Balad after all. (And this is assuming Lieberman comes along, in spite of his earlier declarations of refusal to work with the Arabs.)
But move ahead Gantz did! A meeting was held yesterday between Blue & White – represented by MKs Ofer Shelah and Avi Nissenkorn – and the Joint List — represented by MK Ahmad Tibi, who was accompanied by fellow party member Aida Touma-Sliman.
This meeting concerned only the possibility of the Joint List recommending Benny Gantz as prime minister and did not touch upon support for a minority government by United List. Thus the demands submitted were relatively small, regarding “legislative priorities” on social issues.
Blue & White did not release a statement after the meeting, and Tibi said he would have to bring this back to his party for a decision.
If negotiations progress (which is doubtful), I will share what some of the Arab demands are likely to be, according to various news reports. None of them are good news with regard to Zionist goals and a strong Jewish state. The Arabs have already made it clear that they won’t settle for secret agreements: they would want a coalition agreement that is made public.
There are those who say the solution to this situation is a unity government. I vociferously disagree. Benny Gantz does not deserve to sit in the prime minister’s chair, even for a day.
As unpalatable as it is, I believe a fourth election is necessary – after the current crisis is past, not now. This one would be decisive, as the politicians of Blue & White have exposed their true colors (which are not blue and white). Just as all the nation can see Binyamin Netanyahu’s devotion to Israel. I am convinced that the right-wing bloc would achieve a resounding victory.
The latest news is a statement from Prime Minister Netanyahu:
“I call for the establishment of a national emergency government without hesitation or rejection. It will be an emergency government for a limited period, and together we will fight to save the lives of thousands of civilians. We must put politics aside – and then return to the point where we are now.”
Notice that this proposal came from Bibi, who has no strength for political games right now, and not from Gantz in a spirit of seeking to help. He has invited Gantz to meet with him tonight.
The four leaders of Blue & White have met to discuss this, and Gantz is indicating willingness to discuss formation of a broad national emergency government with Netanyahu .
“Netanyahu on Thursday night presented a profoundly stark assessment of the pandemic’s potential global consequences, indicating that it could cause tens of millions of deaths if it cannot be stopped.
“Netanyahu, who has instituted some of the world’s most stringent measures to try to thwart the spread of the virus in Israel in recent days and weeks, described the pandemic as ‘a global and national incident the likes of which Israel has never known…’
“Not a country on earth would be unaffected by the virus, it was advancing at ‘dizzying’ speed, and a vaccine was at best months away, he warned, speaking gravely and with deliberation. It spreads slowly at first, ‘but then incredibly fast, suddenly, really in a day or two.’
“…Israel, too — with over 100 confirmed cases, but possibly many times that number as yet unreported — faced ‘large numbers of dead,’ he said. ‘So we have to do everything we can to avert that.’”
He likened “today’s challenges to those of 1967, when Israel faced imminent attack by the combined forces of its Arab enemies, and its rival politicians united ahead of the resonant victory of the Six Day War. Now, again, he declared, a unification of political forces, for a limited period, was essential in the battle to prevent large-scale Israeli loss of life.”
As my own activities will be restricted by the guidelines Netanyahu has advanced, I anticipate there will ample time, and then some, for me to continue to track this and write about it.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.