Like the captain who does not want to go down with the ship, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was conspicuously missing from Tuesday’s press briefing.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)


Like the captain who does not want to go down with the ship, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was conspicuously missing from Tuesday’s press briefing to discuss details of a new set of regulations that closed down pools, bars and camps for older children – at least in most cases.

Netanyahu’s absence came just as the public was looking to him to lead them out of the chaos created by the second COVID-19 spike, and it added to mounting confusion.

The decision-making process is actually more complicated than the public is aware: Some decisions fall into the hands of the Health Ministry, some are the government’s and still others the Knesset’s, which means that even though the new directives were announced together, only some of them went into effect.

“Sometimes, the directives are in the news, but they are not yet enforceable,” clarified Prof. Hagai Levine, a Hebrew University epidemiologist and chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians.

But whether the directives are enforceable or not should not be a question for the public, he said, adding: “If the risk of attending a mass wedding is high, then regardless of the law, you should not organize such a wedding.”

Nonetheless, Levine admitted that when it is unclear to the public that the decisions made by the government are based on science, rather than pressure by the loudest interest groups, it harms public trust and makes it harder for the people to follow them.

He argued that even in times of emergency, professionals from the Health Ministry and national health commissions should be consulted to help analyze the data, share variant views and offer alternatives based on epidemiology.

“We are not doing this process enough, and it harms public trust and the quality of the decisions that may be too severe or not severe enough,” Levine said. “The pandemic put many countries into a state of confusion. But this was especially the case in Israel, where we had an already complicated political situation.”

Take the gyms, for example, which the government closed. However, on Tuesday, when the Knesset coronavirus committee asked the Health Ministry how many people were infected in the gym and what the probability of getting sick in a gym really is, the ministry could not provide the answers.
Also, professional athletes can still train in them.

“Pools are closed. No, pools are opened. Hold on, some are opened, and some are closed,” Chava Horowitz, who lives in Ma’aleh Michmash, told The Jerusalem Post on Facebook.

Pools are closed – except hotel swimming pools, therapeutic pools and swimming pools for professional athletic training, the Health Ministry clarified late Tuesday night.

Playgrounds were announced as closed on Tuesday – but playgrounds had never reopened, so in reality there was no change.

The regulations on restaurants – 20 people can be seated inside and 30 outside – only went into effect at 2 p.m. on Tuesday. However, in the evening, the regulation was once again updated. Now, restaurants can have 20 people in each room or designated area of the restaurant. Moreover, permission to operate hotel dining rooms can be granted with the consent of the Health Ministry director-general and in accordance with the restrictions he sets.

And buses?

“I thought there were supposed to be just 20 people on buses, but buses were packed, and as usual, not everyone was wearing their mask,” Jerusalemite Chavi Pollack told the Post. Moreover, enforcement was supposed to be increased, but she said she saw “no police giving tickets to people on buses or the train for not wearing their masks.”

In reality, this was also because regulations did not yet go into effect on buses, as Transportation Minister Miri Regev was still in dialogue with Health Ministry officials about how many people really should be allowed on them and what other restrictions would need to be followed.

“They said you have to open windows in buses,” Levine explained. “This kind of decision should not be made at the last minute without consultation with the bus companies. If they had consulted bus companies, the companies would have told them, ‘We cannot open windows in modern buses at all – they would have to be broken.’ So, can we not use these buses?”

Levine answered that it is still unclear.

Indoor synagogue prayer services are capped at 20 people. On Tuesday, the Post received multiple questions as to whether outdoor services needed to be capped. They do not, if participants wear masks and abide by social distancing.

Jerusalemite Sara Stub said she became confused because “they made it sound like if you were at a swimming pool or a bar then you needed to leave right away. But people didn’t leave.”

Stub noted that during the height of the pandemic, she thought the government did a good job.

“The prime minister was having press conferences and explaining social distancing,” she said. “But since then, I don’t think this has been handled well.”

Stub recalled the chaos that centered on schools in the beginning of May, when first a capsule system was announced, then schools were fully opened almost overnight, and the responsibility for ensuring the children’s safety was transferred to the principals. The schools, in turn, sent letters to parents saying they would open, but they would not guarantee to abide by the Health Ministry’s guidelines.

On Tuesday, the government determined that summer camps may only operate for children of preschool age through fourth grade. However, the government then authorized the Education Ministry to work together with the Health Ministry to decide on educational activities for children grades five and older.

“Recently, the rules have been all over the place, and it is not really making sense,” Stub said.

Where is the prime minister in all of this?

Netanyahu is known for making sure to be front and center when there is credit to be had and pushing blame to his underlings in a critical situation. When there are carrots, Netanyahu will be sure to be there. When there are sticks, sometimes he chooses differently.

In this case, Netanyahu was politically resuscitated by the coronavirus pandemic, but now he is being threatened by it. The economy is destroyed, and yet the public is facing another set of restrictions.

“At the beginning of the corona situation, Netanyahu employed the coronavirus, and he promoted panic,” said former Health Ministry director-general Yoram Lass. “He brainwashed the public, and he had the entire world working for him because, due to the new phenomenon of the social networks, the virus of hysteria was all over the world. So everything he did was based on the foundations of fear, which he enhanced for political reasons.”

Recall that at the end of every new set of restrictions up until the final lockdowns, Netanyahu used his prime-time platform to call out to Benny Gantz to form an emergency, unity government.

Now, Netanyahu has that government and he has destroyed the opposition, as much as he has destroyed the social and economic systems of the State of Israel, Lass said.

“People are hungry, and in this emergency coronavirus government you have more ministers than patients who are intubated,” he added.

The COVID-19 curve might flatten, but the country and Netanyahu still need a life jacket to save them from drowning in the chaos.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post