When my last op-ed was published at the end of March, the coronavirus appeared to be under control in Israel and a national unity government was in the process of being formed. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s popularity and approval rating was soaring and there was a widespread sense of relief that sanity had prevailed and we would have a unity government that would work together, putting the national interest above all else in dealing with the crucial issues facing us.
Alas, as soon as the government was formed, contrary to all expectations, this proved to be an illusion. In fact, unless this government changes dramatically, it may become the worst this country has ever endured.
The government is dysfunctional, fractured and incapable of making any decisions. Indeed, in hindsight, from the outset, with its unprecedented bloated number of ministers, making all decisions subject to the consent of two leaders who have absolute contempt for each other was a recipe for disaster.
Those of us naive enough to believe that the coronavirus pandemic would bring out the best in our leaders have been sadly disappointed. Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party have not acted as partners but as an opposition within the government. They have used their right to veto virtually every decision being pushed by Netanyahu. The result has been that total chaos prevails with no effective government.
This could not have happened at a worse time. When leadership is desperately needed, we have a government of national paralysis, which has totally lost control of the situation.
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated global divisions and unrest all over the world. The United States, whose economy had reached an all-time high, is in total disarray. President Donald Trump’s high ratings have crashed and the polls suggest that Joe Biden, who is far from an attractive candidate, could become the next president.
Internally, chaos prevails with mobs taking to the streets, perpetrating violence and looting while progressives, including some mayors, are calling to defund and, in some cases, eliminate the police. These mobs are mainly led by radicals from the powerful Black Lives Matter movement, whose 2016 Platform (since amended) described Israel as an “apartheid state” that is committing “genocide” against the Palestinian people. Many of them seek to undermine the pillars of civilization and engage in the destruction of statues and monuments of historical and religious personalities. Unless these forces are dealt with and law and order are restored, anarchy will prevail.
In this atmosphere, the pre-selections in the Democratic Party all point to a radicalization that, aside from a potential long-term detrimental domestic impact on the economy and society, do not augur well for Israel.
Though also facing the coronavirus and the threat of terrorism, the countries of Europe and the United Nations, with a few possible exceptions, are still not concentrating on the very real threats from Iran and its proxies, which continue to actively seek the annihilation of Israel.
In this global context, Netanyahu’s commitment to applying sovereignty in parts of Judea and Samaria seems remote as the Americans clearly have their hands full with other issues.
However, more significant is that as a result of his dysfunctional government, Netanyahu’s standing has plummeted.
He generated confidence when addressing the nation so effectively in the first wave of the coronavirus. But the impulsive move to open up the economy too early and now his current inability to execute decisions has resulted in a breakdown of trust and confidence. The government fails to speak with one voice as every ministry releases contradictory statements with no one focusing on the bigger picture, only their own partisan constituent interests.
The public is confused and has lost confidence, and even members of Netanyahu’s own party are rebelling against him, as reflected by the Knesset corona committee overturning government lockdown decisions to curb the pandemic. No longer in control over the decision-making process, Netanyahu is hamstrung by his own government and unable to address the nation freely.
His coalition “partner,” Gantz, does not appear to have any coherent policy other than to oppose Netanyahu’s decisions.
Before the last election, we felt that the political system had reached its lowest level. We were wrong. This “national” government has led to utter disunity.
This is a catastrophic situation for a nation that only a few months ago prided itself as a world leader in dealing effectively with the coronavirus. That position has reversed with Israel now registering among the highest daily infections per capita in the world. All we hear from the various government spokesmen are tentative and conflicting decisions to implement new rules – which are often then reversed. One day, restaurants and beaches are open; the next day, they are closed.
It is unbelievable that I am writing this, but unless this government gets its act together, I would today welcome elections if they were to result in the appointment of a capable leader able to form a disciplined cabinet that would work in unity for the best interest of the nation.
We have among us the best medical professionals in the world. Public health expert Professor Gabi Barbash, former Health Ministry director-general has now been appointed as head of the national campaign to manage the crisis and make the crucial decisions needed. He must be allowed to do so, unimpeded by political motivations or interference.
As for the prime minister, it is sad for me to admit that, despite his outstanding achievements, domestically and internationally, today he is not leading the country effectively. And this is prior to the grueling court cases he is about to face. Unless he can turn the tide rapidly and discipline his partners and achieve a genuine governing arrangement with his coalition, the majority of whom are currently engaging in petty power politics instead of urgently acting to confront the coronavirus, there is no moral justification for this government retaining office.
Israel also needs to have a strong government to handle the possible defeat of Trump and the emergence of a Democratic administration far less supportive to us than its predecessor.
One way or another, we can overcome our challenges on both the international and domestic fronts. But we need a leader supported by a capable and disciplined cabinet. Failure to achieve this will lead to catastrophe.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom