Israel finally gets a government… and praise for its pandemic response

JCRC Scene
Matt Goldberg

After three elections costing hundreds of millions of dollars, Israel has a new government.
Under the newly signed collation agreement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be PM for the next 18 months while Gen. Benny Gantz, leader of the opposition Blue and White Party, will be the defense minister. After 18 months Gantz will become PM and Netanyahu will be Vice-PM.
The two leaders, who signed the agreement this week, are calling this an emergency unity government, coming together to deal with the unprecedented coronavirus crisis. Gantz had decided that the country needs an emergency unity government and has been negotiating with Netanyahu on doing just that.
Many of Gantz’s coalition partners are outraged to see him actually share power with Netanyahu, a man they simply cannot reconcile with, and have abandoned him, deciding to sit in the opposition instead.
But Netanyhu has become more popular over the past few weeks for his handling of the pandemic. Polls indicate that if another election were held tomorrow, his right-wing Likud bloc would win resoundingly. Apparently, this news gave Netanyahu the confidence to play hardball during negotiations, extracting some serious concessions from Gantz.
Of course, Israeli politics are notoriously difficult to forecast and anything can happen in the coming months (including a conviction for Netanyahu at his corruption trial, which could put him in jail). Stay tuned.
This political saga is being resolved as Israel is being widely praised for its response to the coronavirus. One of the first countries to enact a stay-at-home order, the shutdown is being credited with saving many lives.
Israel strictly enforced the order, prohibiting people from straying more than 100 meters (109 yards) from their homes except for essential trips.
Israel has also functionally shut down its airport. There is now about one flight landing a day, usually a chartered aircraft filled with homebound Israelis who were stranded in countries as far away as Peru and New Zealand.
In fighting the coronavirus, Israel has unleashed every apparatus of its security forces. Its top-secret weapons research division is working on finding a vaccine. Military special forces have been mitigating the impact of the disease and the Mossad, the national intelligence agency, has been securing necessary equipment from abroad such as ventilators and PPE.
Israel has several pharmaceutical companies working on both treatments and vaccines, and they are reporting promising results with both. One company plans human vaccine trials by June 1.
With its mortality rate from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, low compared to other countries, Israel’s efforts are something we should be proud of.
But they are not perfect.
Israel’s economy has collapsed, just as the rest of the world. It may even be more acute since the Israeli economy is significantly dependent on tourism. The tourist industry aspires to be well positioned when the economy reopens; limited activity has already begun. Hopefully, the turnaround will come sooner than later for Israel.

(Matt Goldberg is director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.)

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