Opinion: The bungled response to the pandemic will definitely go down in history as the prime minister’s fault, but if he wishes to save face and the nation, he must give the reins to one of his biggest political rivals

Israel is on its way to another lockdown, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz admitted on Monday, and without a dramatic turnaround, it will probably happen very soon.

One of the main reasons cited for the creation of the current coalition government was, of course, the coronavirus pandemic.

 ישיבת ממשלה
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wears a face mask during the coronavirus pandemic (Photo: Reuters)


It actually seemed like the virus had been defeated as the government was taking shape. The number of new cases had almost dropped to single digits every day.

But once the government was formed, everything turned upside down.

There are many reasons for this blunder, but it seems like the main one is that there was no serious handling of the crisis.

After all, when they all gave out the ministerial jobs to one another, nobody wanted the coronavirus portfolio. (Actually, there was one person, but we’ll get to him later.)

השולחן הארוך והברדק בישיבת הממשלה
A meeting of the 36-minister coalition government in Jerusalem


It’s a little hard to demand that politicians rise above their own utilitarian considerations.

After all, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has himself taken putting one’s own personal interests over national interests to new heights.
He actually believes there is a complete overlap between his personal interests and the national interests – but that does not mean he wants the situation to get any worse.

So if there is a drop of decency left in him, and we hope there is, he must take the necessary step in such an emergency. He should appoint Yamina leader Naftali Bennett as health minister or at least put him in charge of the national effort against coronavirus, with all the required authorizations.

Bennett was the only one who wanted the position of health minister and regardless of politics, even those who did not vote for him can admit that this man has the character to lead to us through a crisis.

השבעת הממשלה
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett (Photo: The Knesset)


There’s no reason for political witch hunts after the fact and the talk of a commission of inquiry is an exercise in futility. These panels have proven before how little hindsight they have.

It’s already clear that this failure will go down as Netanyahu’s doing. He’s the one who took all the credit and praise when it seemed as though Israel’s response to the crisis was among the best in the world.

Now, as the memory of that previous success is fading and this current failure is on full display, Netanyahu is left to face the slings and arrows alone.

נפתלי בנט ובנימין נתניהו
Then-defense minister Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)


It is not as though Bennett has a rabbit in his hat; he is not a magician. But his appointment would lead to two things.

First, if Netanyahu agrees to pass the torch to someone whom he views as a major political rival, it would be acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation.

Second, appointing Bennett would force all parties, from the Health Ministry to the Treasury, to end their infighting and actually cooperate.

Moreover, Netanyahu himself has a couple of good reasons for appointing Bennett.

The prime minister could frame it as him putting the nation’s interests before his own ego, plus he would have someone to shoulder the blame if it fails, and if it is successful, Netanyahu would be able to claim his sense of national responsibility played a crucial role in handling the crisis.

There are concerns that the pandemic is being exploited to violate human rights, such as the use of the Shin Bet security service’s mobile contact tracing of civilians. But these are false fears – Israel’s security officials have no interest in turning the country into Turkey or Russia.

נפתלי בנט בבני נרק
Naftali Bennett visiting the coronavirus-hit city of Bnei Brak during the pandemic (Photo: Yariv Katz)


This is another reason why Bennett is the right man for the job – despite his hard line right-wing positions, he’s more liberal than most people imagine.

When a mayor of a southern city announced during the 2014 Gaza war that he would not allow Arabs to work there, Bennett, then the economy minister, was the first to say: “Not on my watch.”

But all political arguments aside, this is an emergency.

This is Netanyahu’s moment to prove he can rise to the challenge in a time of true crisis. The ball is in his court and he needs to save not just the people, but his own skin as well.

As reported by Ynetnews