“Schlaglicht Israel” offers an insight into internal Israeli debates and reflects selected, political events that affect daily life in Israel. It appears every two weeks and summarizes articles that appeared in the Israeli daily press.
Main topics covered in this Publication:
- Political Crisis Over for Now
- Israel Imposes Severe Restrictions Because of Corona Pandemic
- Pessach 2020
- Selection of Articles
Setting the worst example
Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz’s official excuse for breaking his election promise (…) was the health and economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus. (…) a reasonable explanation, had it been accompanied by suitable conditions in the coalition agreement. But the agreement being hashed out reflects the most bloated cabinet in Israel’s history. It will probably have 34 ministers, split ministries and mutual veto rights on senior appointments. (…) Such an agreement, in the midst of a crisis in which the unemployment rate soared to 25 percent of employees (…), is a slap in the face of Israelis, who are shuttered in their homes and are dealing with health and economic anxieties as well as social and family distancing. This agreement is about finding jobs for politicians, which means heavy costs, increasing the bureaucracy and red tape in the government’s administration and the public sector. It’s also proof that as far as the politicians are concerned – right and left – they put themselves ahead of everyone else. This is not the way to manage a crisis. Managing the coronavirus crisis requires the public’s confidence, cooperation and sacrifice, for it’s being called upon to pay a hefty price. (…) The hasty decision to hand out one-time allocations to families for 500 shekels per child (…) and to the elderly shows Netanyahu understands that broad social unrest is brewing, which could be directed against him as well. But this tranquilizing pill cannot hide the wastefulness of the bloated government being planned.
Editorial, HAA, 03.04.20
A political crisis amid COVID-19 should (and could) have been avoided
(…) Israel’s experience should serve as a wake-up call to other countries, including the US: do not mix politics into the ongoing health crisis. Israel is in the process of establishing a unity government (…). Benny Gantz should have offered his support to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the very early stages of the COVID-19 crisis instead of actively working towards creating coalitions. (…) Instead, Israel found itself fighting the gravest health crisis of the century and a political and constitutional crisis, all at once. (…) As Israel’s transitional government was making bold decisions on a daily basis to fight the outbreak, the process of government formation nevertheless continued unabated. (…) In the past, Israeli politicians have (…) prioritized Israel’s welfare over party politics and formed unity governments in the face of national crises. In June of 1967, as tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors were rising, Levi Eshkol created a unity government, even though Labor already had a 75-seat majority. The average survival time of a government between 1949 and 1967 was 17 months; this government lasted for 38, ending with Eshkol’s death. Israeli leaders today should have followed Eshkol’s lead much earlier. (…) Ultimately, it is for the political opponent to demonstrate leadership, reach out to whoever is in power, and offer assistance in the face of a national emergency. In times of crisis, the political system should rally behind the incumbent. Campaigns and other political maneuvers – which in the case of Israel crystallized into a full-fledged political crisis and nearly resulted in a constitutional crisis – have no place during such trying times. Moving forward, party politics and individuals’ personal political considerations should not continue to undermine states’ responses to COVID-19. (…)
Daphné Richemond-Barak, JPO, 05.04.20
Gantz’s opportunity to mend the historic rift
The discord over Israeli sovereignty – which is currently delaying the establishment of an emergency government – isn’t just a landmine on the path to unity. This disagreement is also a one-time relatively convenient opportunity that history has given Blue and White and its leader Benny Gantz: To finally advance internal Jewish consensus and broad national accord over the future of Judea and Samaria (…). If they could only internalize this, it would be their finest hour. The deal of the century, which allows for the annexation of 30% of Judea and Samaria and the application of Israeli law in the communities there, is not just a plan from the “hard-line right” school of thought. For years, the camp Gantz now leads has talked about the need for “separation.” The deal of the century addresses this separation, even if imperfectly. (…) The deal of the century also addresses the demographic demon and the Jewish majority and leaves the vast majority of Palestinians outside the borders of the State of Israel. (…) The annexation of Judea and Samaria (…) ultimately envisions a Palestinian state as a solution to the conflict, making this vision a cornerstone of the Gantz camp’s policies after all. Gantz certainly hasn’t forgotten that the enterprise of settling the Jordan Valley is the fruit of the Labor party’s policies – (…). Shimon Peres planted a tree in Ofra in the Judean Hills and approved its creation, and Motta Gur supported many of the communities across Judea and Samaria. (…) The moment the status of the Jewish settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria is finalized through internal and international agreement (…) Israel can free itself to deeper introspection. Then Israel can finally turn its attention to matters of welfare, society and other schisms that divide Israeli society.
Nadav Shragai, IHY, 05.04.20
Gantz, have you no red lines at all?
There are several proofs of the fact that the term “national emergency government” is devoid of content. One is that Yaakov Litzman is staying on as health minister. Another is that the Kahol Lavan party didn’t demand “coronavirus portfolios” like the health and finance ministries. And here’s a third piece of evidence demonstrating that the pandemic is just a smokescreen for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: the fact that during Likud’s negotiations with Kahol Lavan over forming a government, the main dispute has been over the issue of annexation. The self-evident question is why, at the height of an unprecedented health crisis – at a time when the health system is on the brink of collapse, the education system is shut down, the population is in quarantine, the elderly are separated from their families, cities are under lockdown and more than a million Israelis have become unemployed – why, amid all this chaos, is Netanyahu, and presumably other sections of his right-wing bloc, primarily concerned with the issue of unilaterally annexing parts of the West Bank? (…) Netanyahu is simply using the coronavirus to ensure his continuance in power, while also creating irreversible facts on the ground in line with the right’s policy. (…) Kahol Lavan wants to define a six-month period as an “emergency government.” During this period, the government would focus on fighting the coronavirus and dealing with the resultant health and economic crises, while setting aside major diplomatic issues like annexation. Gantz must not compromise on this point. He depicted his dramatic decision to turn his back on his own voters, his political partners and his main campaign promise (…) as an existential necessity, a kind of cease-fire for humanitarian purposes in exceptional circumstances. (…)
Editorial, HAA, 06.04.20
Blue and White? It’s black
(…) With the establishment of the Blue and White Movement, a new chapter in the political life of the State of Israel commenced. Thirteen years ago, the Kadima political party was formed prior to Israel’s 2006 elections. Kadima won the election in a landslide victory, whereas the Likud suffered a major loss, receiving only 12 mandates. The new Kadima party was formed by leaders who were correctly portrayed as an undeniable threat to Netanyahu’s extended rule. Over a year ago, hope was born. But now, that hope is fading (…). In all three of the election campaigns, Blue and White leaders spoke very little about Israel’s core issues. They did not address topics such as our relationship with the Palestinians (…). All three of the recent election campaigns focused on two main issues, in large part due to the divisive and provocative conduct of the prime minister. (…) In essence, Gantz and his comrades in Blue and White, pledged not to join Likud and Netanyahu in forming a government, claiming that a person who’s been indicted cannot serve as prime minister, especially when such serious charges of bribery are involved. Gantz pledged that as soon as the Knesset is convened, he will pass a law which states that a person with a criminal grievance against him cannot serve in the government, and certainly not as prime minister. (…) After Gantz was granted the task of forming a government (…) he even pledged to have Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein replaced, and to pass legislation that would prevent an incumbent MK from forming a government if at that time he’d been served with an indictment and was awaiting trial. (…) Gantz was convinced that he’d succeed in forming a government without the Joint List and without the Likud. Just how was he planning on doing that? Did anyone imagine that Blue and White would win enough mandates that it wouldn’t need the support of either the Joint List or Likud? How is it then, that two days before he did an about-face turn, he was still talking about having the Knesset speaker replaced, and pushing legislation that would prevent Netanyahu from continuing to serve as prime minister? (…) Gantz could have formed a minority government, with the one-time support of the Joint List. Not a partnership, in which they would not be part of a coalition agreement, and without receiving any ministerial positions. They didn’t want this, and he didn’t want this, and there was no need for such an arrangement. All he needed to do was act with determination, persistence, and courage to protect democracy from those who threaten it. Now, the people who were a threat to democracy will become Gantz and Ashkenazi’s partners. (…) There is no Blue or White. Everything is black.
Ehud Olmert, JPO, 09.04.20
2. Israel Imposes Severe Restrictions Because of Corona Pandemic
Fighting coronavirus the smart way
(…) Countless mistakes have been made so far, all because the authorities failed to realize that a national crisis of this scale can only be solved by using the resources of the state to their fullest extent. The Ministry of Health cannot manage such a crisis alone. (…) for two entire months, Israel was only using 1.2 percent of its ability to monitor the spread of coronavirus. Furthermore, a single lab test takes about six hours but on average it takes 3-5 days for the patient to receive the results. That means there are 500 confirmed virus cases every day who are unaware they are carriers and who continue to infect others. Additionally, there is no organized method for selecting whom to test. (…) And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (…) if Israel imposes an effective lockdown on groups at risk, such as the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, the rest of the population could continue with normal life and gradually become immune to the virus – something commonly called herd immunity. (…) Israel could start lifting some of the restrictions on the economy after Passover. (…) all action must be coordinated round the clock in a single national operations room, which would gradually delegate responsibility to the local authorities. We saw back in the Second Lebanon War in 2006 that local leaders know how to manage their communities better than anyone. (…) Why not allow residents of neighborhoods bordering fields, orchards, and forests to go to those open areas? Why do mayors not know the identities of the sick in their communities? (…) The government must conduct a thorough discussion and examine better alternatives so we can end this shallow and one-dimensional argument of whether nor not the lockdown is strict enough.
Giora Eiland, YED, 01.04.20
Coronavirus: Israel’s ultra-Orthodox endanger the public – opinion
(…) How shameful, (…) that some of Israel’s most religious communities, religious leaders, and even the health minister himself refuse to take the threat of coronavirus seriously enough in their own observant communities. The ultra-Orthodox disdain for secular society in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic endangers both their own communities and the general public. (…) As Israelis, the IDF, Magen David Adom and the entire health system scramble to control the spread of the potentially fatal virus, some ultra-Orthodox groups have done the opposite. (…) Instead of working together with the government, police and other religious leaders, some communities have (…) protested in the streets against the regulations, in an appalling act of disrespect for their fellow Israelis. (…) In an sordid display of contempt for his fellow Israelis, our health minister, tasked with handling the biggest pandemic of our time, cares more about proving a point to secular society than he does about preventing the spread of a potentially fatal disease. (…) The chief rabbis have (…) delayed closing synagogues for weeks (…). The laws and regulations of the State of Israel apply to all its citizens equally, from the prime minister to the ultra-Orthodox communities. Our government and our police have an obligation to enforce the law, because the right to religious freedom doesn’t come above the right to life. Closures of synagogues, yeshivot and mikvaot are an attempt to save the lives of those in religious communities, not damage their ability to practice religion. (…)
Emily Schrader, JPO, 01.04.20
Coronavirus, the greatest challenge to ultra-Orthodox Jewish life since the Holocaust
One of the most frustrating things about reporting on the ultra-Orthodox community as a journalist is that very early on in your beat, you realize that nearly all the Haredim you get to talk to in the daily coverage are not really representative of the community. (…) no matter from which sub-set of ultra-Orthodoxy they come, they belong to the tiny group with connections to the outside world. (…) you very rarely get to speak to ultra-Orthodox women, with the exception of the tiny group of female Haredim who have been allowed to pursue a profession outside the community. (…) The overcrowding of the Haredi neighborhoods and townships (…) combines with two other factors to make the ultra-Orthodox community the most vulnerable. A lack of access to information due to the rabbis’ prohibition of television, radio, secular newspapers, internet and any mobile phones which can use messaging apps can be fatal as when a pandemic advances quickly. And then there’s the deep suspicion towards any outside interference by the government or “experts” in the community lives and questioning of the rabbis’ leadership. But there’s a deeper issue which makes the Haredim particularly exposed. Their deep belief that they can’t be taught anything. There’s nothing new under the sun. That they were always here, learning Torah, and survived despite everything. (…) Torah is life, and the rabbis are infallible. (…) Bnei Brak, “the city of Torah,” is no longer protected. Jews who devoted their lives to study are apparently dying in much higher proportions. Torah no longer saves from death. A million men and women who were brought up on the post-war ethos of ultra-Orthodoxy are now facing their greatest challenge since the Holocaust.
Anshel Pfeffer, HAA, 02.04.20
Scaring people to death
(…) due to the characteristics of this coronavirus strain, in order to safeguard the economy, the social order and pubic administration, the elderly should be protected through effective isolation while the rest of the population goes on about its business. Many of the latter will be infested with the virus, but a large portion of those affected will not know it and another large portion will suffer only the symptoms of a bad cold or a flu attack, going to bed and treating symptoms until well again, usually a matter of days. The advantage of this approach is not only saving the economic and health systems of the country from collapse but also the development in a large percentage of the population of antibodies to the virus which will protect them in case of a recurrence of the scourge. (…) The coronavirus (…) is similar to the flu virus and several orders of magnitude of people become ill annually from flu and a much larger percentage of those are hospitalized than in the present case, despite the existence for many years of a vaccine. It will also help in putting the matter in perspective to note that in many countries more people will die of road accidents or through committing suicide than from Covid-19. (…) another result of the current governmental overreaction to the coronavirus on the part of most governments–the panic effect. It is well known that panic itself has serious negative health effects, besides psychological and emotional effects–some people are literally “scared to death”. (…) Sweden, the Netherlands, and several Far Eastern countries, such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore have taken more or less the “Lass approach” and are doing relatively well. A sense of proportion and a sense of priorities are sadly lacking in most of the world, exemplified by the Indian “lockdown”. (…) Panic is a cowardly and counterproductive response to a crisis. It can only make matters much, much worse.
Norman A. Bailey, GLO, 05.04.20
Like in a war against an enemy military, the battle against the novel coronavirus (…) requires an exit strategy (…) Formulating a plan does not mean that we are at the point for it to be implemented, but it does give a sense of hope that there is a day after (…) One of the ways for example for Israel to get out of the quarantine would be a higher number of tests, which would enable the country to create “green” zones for the places where there are no sick and “red” zones for the areas that have a high rate of infections. Unfortunately, that cannot currently be done since Israel cannot get its testing numbers above 7,000. (…) Israel would need to get to a number of tests, such as 30-50 thousand a day, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has been pushing for from the beginning of this crisis. The opposition of the Health Ministry to this proven model has been a mystery for weeks. Health Ministry officials (…) have pushed back on increasing the number of tests from the beginning, repeatedly saying that tests were not the way to get Israel out of the crisis. It made no matter that the model worked in Singapore and South Korea or that the head of the World Health Organization called for other countries to do the same. (…) Then there is the issue with the flights that continued to land in Israel from New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus in recent weeks. Why was Israel allowing people to come into the country with no control over who they were, where they were going, if they were sick and who they had come in contact with? (…) What happened until now is in the past and will hopefully one day be investigated by a state commission of inquiry. Now, the question is how Israel moves forward. (…)
Editorial, JPO, 12.04.20
Israel must emerge stronger from coronavirus crisis
The world order changes in times of a pandemic and in times of war, for both claim countless casualties. In times of pandemic, much like in times of war – we mustn’t hesitate to make the right decisions. (…) we have the option of isolating our elders, significantly reducing their chances of contracting the virus and dying as a result. At the same time, however, we must let the rest of the population to resume everyday life or we will not recover from this crisis for many years to come.(…) The ongoing stranglehold on the economy and civilian life will help mitigate the spread of the virus in the long run but will also land a devastating blow to the Israeli economy and society. Without a viable economy, there would be no jobs, no healthcare, no joie de vivre, no life at all. As a result of the closure, about one million salaried employees and half a million self-employed Israelis, as well as countless small-medium business owners and their families – a total of about 4 million people – are experiencing severe financial distress. In order to prevent such a catastrophe (…) the state must reach out to small-medium business owners and provide them genuine assistance in such difficult times. This should include the immediate reimbursement of all payments to the Tax Authority in January and February, as well as an immediate 10% grant for business with annual turnover of more than NIS 1 million. Furthermore, and more importantly, we must fully kickstart the economy and education system for all civilians under 65 years of age. (…) such a prolonged period of isolation may pose various risks for the confined population and their loved ones, but this is the right course of action. (…) We must make a decision and stick to it, impose closures where necessary and eliminate all travel restrictions on the rest of the population. Only then will the Israeli economy and society come back to life. (…)
Haim Ramon, YED, 15.04.20
3. Pessach 2020
A New Addition to Your Haggadah
This night is different because we cannot join together with our extended family, friends and community in celebration. This night is different because, as we tell the story of our people from slavery to freedom from Egypt to the Promised Land, we must also tell about our own time, about our own plagues and immediate needs. (…) as we hold the matzah this year, whether with our families or completely alone, may we experience our connection to the story of the Jewish people; to our values and to our shared future. May we never forget our Exodus story and our promise to ourselves that even in our new, more limited freedom, we will not stand by when others are suffering. May all who are suffering, whether they are sick, afraid, hungry, suffering from domestic violence or any other plague, know that we see you, we hear you, and we will work together to respond to you. May all who are mourning find comfort and may we collectively find ways to console them. May we continue to support medical personnel, as well as all service workers who are responding with all their capacities, generosity, care and self-sacrifice. May all who are suffering now be healed quickly. May all who are in need, know that the Jewish people will respond with the best of ourselves. May we find new ways to learn about each other and to learn together, even virtually. This year, we are broken, but next year may we find new beginnings, a new wholeness, and a new common destiny. (…)
Alex Rif, TOI, 08.04.20
Passover seder night lockdown
(…) This most family-oriented of festivals will be the holiday of isolation and social-distancing; the festival of freedom become the festival of closure; the festival of spring now the festival of staying home. It’s hard to think of a greater contrast than the one between the Passover tradition and the way the festival will be observed this year. Israel is withdrawing into itself, separated and disconnected, each family on its own. (…) Now is not the time for summaries or reckonings. Their time will come, once the pandemic subsides. Until it does, we must be grateful to everyone who is battling the crisis with selfless devotion and to pay attention to the points of light amid the great loss and suffering. (…) The pandemic has taught Israel that the peace and security of its inhabitants do not depend solely on the force of arms. There are perils that even the most advanced weapons and espionage cannot conquer. One of the world’s most heavily armed nations has found itself vulnerable and insufficiently protected. (…) Respirators are no less essential to national security than are submarines, intensive care units no less critical than fighter squadrons. The agenda of the state, which has spent billions of shekels on its military but recklessly neglected its medical system, must change. (…) The coronavirus has brought a new equality to Israel: Everyone is vulnerable to the same danger, to nearly the same degree, and everything goes topsy-turvy. (…) Hatred for Arabs turns to gratitude for their contribution to the health care system as nurses, physicians, pharmacists and hospital employees, and Palestinians in the territories become, if only briefly, partners in a shared fate, exposed to the same danger. It’s a good time to ask what is it that we have been fighting over for generations. (…) we can only wish (…) that at least some of the lessons of the coronavirus crisis will remain with us after the pandemic passes.
Editorial, HAA, 08.04.20
Alone at Passover, but not lonely
(…) Maybe some good might come up from this lockdown in the shape of a new way of behaving for us all (…).Coronavirus (…) has offered us introspection – really trying to look at ourselves, our relationships and what we expect from one another. (…) Anyone doubting the legitimate demands for equal rights from Israel’s Arabs, who make up 20% of population, should go out into the streets in the early morning and listen to the doctors and nurses fighting for the lives of Jewish patients. Perhaps then they will be convinced that the time for equality has come. (…) There’s no way of knowing how our lives will look after the virus goes away. For now, we are collecting experiences that will greatly influence our future. (…) This year we read the Haggadah in separate homes, I am sitting alone at my table while my children and grandchildren celebrate the holiday elsewhere. My wife Rachela passed away two years ago. The Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who was childless, used to have Seder with his wife. When she died after 60 years of marriage, the rebbe had Seder alone, reading the Haggadah to himself. He was alone, but not lonely.
Shimon Shiffer, YED, 09.04.20
This is not a Passover for despair
For most of us, this is the saddest Passover we can recall. The coronavirus pandemic is unlike any previous trauma we’ve lived through. (…) Nor has anything prepared us for the way COVID-19 has taken such a toll on the elderly. (…) Among Jewish victims are a disproportionate number of persons who survived the Holocaust (…). Rather than the prelude to Passover being a joyous time of preparation (…) Jews are home alone, anxious and depressed. While we will read the Haggadah about liberation, most of us are starting to feel like we’re prisoners and in need of a miracle or two of our own in order to survive. Instead of talking about the plagues that were visited upon Egypt, we’re discussing a contemporary plague that, even if we wash our hands and practice social distancing, we can’t be sure will pass us over in the long run. But for all of the gloom and doom that is overshadowing the holiday this year, it’s not the time for despair. (…) Just as the seder is a historical time machine that is intended to make us understand that the Exodus from Egypt is an event in which we were personally liberated from bondage, a perusal of the history books ought to also encourage those inclined to despondency. (…) Even the slightest acquaintance with Jewish history (…) should remind us that we live in a uniquely wonderful time in which liberation is not a dream or a metaphor, but a reality. (…) Like far greater troubles in the past, this, too, shall pass. Even at our lowest point, Jews have never despaired, but instead embraced their faith and hope in a better future. So should we.
Jonathan S. Tobin, IHY, 10.04.20
4. Selection of Articles
Sanders Withdraws His Candidacy
Bye Bye Bernie
(…) There will be no President Sanders, the anti-Israel Jew. There will be a former Vice-President of America, Joe Biden, who will join the debates with the sitting Republican president, Donald J. Trump. (…) Bernie Sanders is a Jew by birth, completely remote from his ancestral faith. He learned his socialist ideals on an Israeli kibbutz. He married an Irish Catholic woman and they spent their fabulous honeymoon in a communist paradise, the former Soviet Union. Such a man is not fit to become an American president. America is a democratic nation and its citizens have no appetite for socialism and for Sanders’ rendition of it in the White House where thanks to God and to common sense he will never be. Now if only the good news from America could travel across the oceans and seas to beautiful tiny Israel, we too might be able to share in similar good news when and if prime minister Netanyahu will fade out of our politics. (…) The Americans can sing a jolly tune called “Bye Bye Bernie”. What song, tune or melody can we sing in the very near future when corruption is no longer among us? In the meantime, please enjoy the seder. Read the haggadah to your children. Tell and retell the great story of our freedom and our liberation from cruel slavery. (…) A kosher, happy and healthy Pesach to all of us. And to American Jews, be happy. Add “Bye Bye Bernie” to your prayers.
Esor Ben-Sorek, TOI, 09.04.20
HAA = Haaretz
YED = Yedioth Ahronoth / Ynetnews
JPO = Jerusalem Post
IHY = Israel HaYom
TOI = Times of Israel
GLO = Globes
Published: April, 2020.
Dr Paul Pasch,
Head of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel