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Israel’s modern Yom Kippur debacle

Forty-seven years ago, on Yom Kippur day in 1973, the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a coordinated assault against Israel, from the North and the South. The ensuing war, which would see soldiers and reservists pulled out of synagogues to fight, would go down in history as Israel’s bloodiest debacle.

What Israel finds itself facing on the eve of Yom Kippur 2020 is no less a threat and a colossal failure than what happened almost half a century ago.

Then, it was the IDF’s failure to see the signs that war was coming and to prepare accordingly.

Today, it is the political establishment’s utter failure to manage the coronavirus and the ensuing health, economic, social and political crises.

It is our leadership’s preference of populism over the pandemic. When this is over, one commission of inquiry, like the Agranat Commission, will not be enough. Israel will need to do a reckoning it has not considered for decades.

On Thursday night, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the nation, it would have been a perfect opportunity for the prime minister to express a measure of regret for what has happened and to take some responsibility – even if just a little – for leading Israel into a second total lockdown or to the point that it is at the top of the world in infections per capita.

After all, Yom Kippur was only days away.

Instead, Israelis got the standard Netanyahu speech we have all grown accustomed to over the last seven months: blaming everyone but himself, accusing everyone but himself and deflecting any notion of criticism. It’s the people who are at fault for not following the restrictions, he said.

The health experts were to blame, he said, for providing bad assessments and the politicians in the Knesset were to blame, he added, for not immediately approving everything he asked for.

It was as if Netanyahu has not been here for the last seven months of this crisis or been prime minister for the last 11 years.

Did Netanyahu forget that he was the one who told Israelis in May to “go have a beer” after the last lockdown and then a few weeks later, sent his political cronies to the Knesset to fight to get him an NIS 1 million tax break at a time that about one million Israelis were still out of jobs?

He was the prime minister when the virus started to spread out of control, but he did very little to stop it. Instead of working with his coalition partners to come up with a strategic plan for how to combat the coronavirus, he fought with them over the passing of a state budget, which he had committed to passing with his own signature in a coalition agreement he had signed just weeks before.

It was Netanyahu who passed decisions against the pandemic in the cabinet only to overturn them hours later because of pressure from other politicians. It was Netanyahu who used the virus to attack his political adversaries, to then make a coalition with them and then attack them once again.

In the seven months since the coronavirus came into our lives, has Israel built a new hospital? Has it added new doctors, new nurses or new internal medicine wards? It allocated NIS 15 billion to hospitals, but that money went to routine expenses.

During the first wave of the virus, Israel bought thousands of ventilators because it thought that’s what was needed. Did it recruit or train staff to use them?

And what about the last 11 years? As prime minister, did he try to improve the health system, or did he deposit it in the hands of allies out of political convenience? Anyone who has lived in Israel during this period and needed to visit a hospital knows the situation – overcrowded wards, overworked staff and underfunded clinics. There is no sugarcoating the failure here. What makes it so transparent is that everyone knows it could have been different.

Had the prime minister been focused, had he put the pandemic before politics and had he cared about the welfare of the people before his own bank account, maybe we would not be in another lockdown.

Instead, he promoted division, polarization and hostility. Not once did he try to reach across the Knesset aisle. Not once did he truly try to unite the nation.

Beyond the economic damage this lockdown causes Israel, the country’s failure to properly manage this crisis undermines the general state of security. Enemies are watching, and when they see a fragmented society, a paralyzed and impotent leadership, they wonder what else is possible.

In his speech on Thursday night, Netanyahu was right about one thing. Israel, he said, is at war. What he didn’t say is that Israel has so far lost the war and is continuing to lose. We won’t hear that type of admission from him.

For that to happen, a leader has to be willing to take responsibility. That is why Israel will need a commission of inquiry when this is over and that is why we are in the midst of Israel’s modern day Yom Kippur debacle.

Original: Yaakov Katz – JPost