Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likes to compare the coronavirus pandemic to a war, and has promised Israelis a victory. But to turn his own comparison against him, Netanyahu is managing the campaign from inside a bunker – or in the 21st century version of it: his plasma screen.
A history lover like him certainly knows all the stories about great military leaders who rode to the front and inspired their soldiers with the spirit of battle. He certainly remembers the photograph of the bandage on Ariel Sharon’s wounded head, which became the symbol of the Israeli crossing of the Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur War.
Netanyahu will never be remembered on this list. The list of his trips and visits outside of his office and the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem since the outbreak of the pandemic and the imposition of the first lockdown in March is very sparse. Three times, within a week and a half, he visited hospitals – Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva on July 28, Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer on August 2 and Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on August 6. Since then he has not been seen in any medical facility.
He visited the Home Front Command once and schools twice. His last tour was in Beit Shemesh on September 8, and since then he has not been seen on the outside. Even the police officers who are enforcing his policies, using fines, beatings and water cannons, have not been honored with a single visit.
As a replacement for personal contact with the fighters, men and women, at the front – in the coronavirus wards, police stables, epidemiological investigation centers, labs and welfare offices – Netanyahu sends out informational video clips every day from the Prime Minister’s Office or his residence, in which he plays the figure of Bibi the teacher. In a blazer and without a tie, armed with a whiteboard, papers and markers, he tries to educate the public to wear masks, keep social distancing rules and in general accept the lockdown as a good time.
All of it in an easy and pleasant way – he asks everyone nicely to respect the rules, from the falafel seller to the government minister. This was his lame and pitiful response to the breaking of the rules by Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel, who lied to the Health Ministry investigators.
It seems Netanyahu is afraid of being infected with COVID-19, and is no less afraid of showing leadership, which would cost him by assuming responsibility for the failed management of the crisis. It is obvious that if Netanyahu were to tour around Israel, the virus would not be frightened of him and the outbreak would not stop. But Netanyahu is very well aware of the importance of showing concern and involvement in inspiring his subordinates. A decade ago, when he wanted to advance and speed up the construction of the border fence in the Negev, he visited the work sites time after time until the project was successfully completed. When he ran in the elections, he crisscrossed the entire country. And now, during the most severe national crisis ever, Netanyahu is not leaving his home and is making do with remote preaching.
Instead of providing encouragement and support to the public servants who are dealing with the outbreak and the lockdown, Netanyahu is devoting his time to his war against the attorney general and the cancellation, or evaporation, of his trial. He is devoting hours to mudslinging against Avichai Mendelblit.
The public is unaware of what is happening behind the walls on Balfour Street or in Caesarea, and does not know the details of the prime minister’s schedule. But when the supreme military commander in chief disappears from the front, people sense he is missing. They comprehend that Netanyahu is not sending them a message of hope and security, but one of despair and fear, and are turning to follow Naftali Bennett, who claims he knows how to defeat the pandemic and pulls out plans filled with details.
Bennett is in the opposition, free from responsibility, and he can say whatever he wants. He doesn’t have the magic medicine for the virus either, but he is endlessly touring all over the country and is at least giving the public something to hold on to, like the commanders during the Yom Kippur War, who called on the troops over the radio to “hold on for another five minutes.”