Going the distance against the pandemic

COVID-19 will be with us for a while and seems to be bringing out the worst in us. Defeating the virus requires unity. There is no room for incitement or for flouting health directives.

Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on July 26, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on July 26, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Boaz Bismuth
Boaz Bismuth
 Boaz Bismuth is editor in chief of Israel Hayom.

The bad news is that fighting the coronavirus is more of a marathon than a sprint and we have a long way to go before COVID-19 is vanquished. Another piece of bad news is that the coronavirus seems to be devouring everything in sight, and currently, there is no vaccine or medication humankind can employ against it. The only means currently at our disposal are social distancing and wearing face masks, which everyone agrees is not all it’s cracked up to be.

It gets worse. This virus has made us behave in a counterintuitive manner, profoundly changing the way we travel, hold and attend events, and even dine out. Worse still, as a result of the global pandemic, social and economic crises emerge, and at times, even wars.

The good news is that the virus will be vanquished—eventually. But this will take time and if we, as a society, want to see that blessed day with minimal health and economic fallout, we must strive to reach it as one, united society.

Israeli society embodies it all: We are opinionated, contrarian, polemical, conservative, liberal, religious, secular, sharp and uncompromising, but we are also united at our core. In other words, protest is legitimate, but we must be wary of creating a rift in society. Democracy means free choice, not a free fall.

Recent weeks have demonstrated that the coronavirus pandemic is capable of bringing out the worst in us. Let’s show it that it is possible to do things differently. Solidarity is not a dirty word. Protesting and pointing fingers is allowed, as long as we make sure we do not miss our mark.

Since the coronavirus burst into our lives and upended much of reality as we knew it, we have developed a tendency to blame the government for everything. This is justified to an extent—elected officials are, after all, elected to serve the public, but we cannot ignore the fact that the global pandemic is a singular event of unprecedented magnitude.

This is an international occurrence that is threatening the stability of the world’s superpowers, including nuclear powers like the United States and Britain. This virus has also devastated established Western nations the likes of Italy, Spain and France; and the threat still looms, as dire as ever.

One thing we have learned so far from the coronavirus is that “disciplined” societies such as Japan, South Korea and Germany, are better able to cope with it. This does not mean that they are immune to the contagion, but the fight against the spread of the virus there is more effective.

Just as we expect the authorities to strike a balance between health interests and economic interests when deciding on the measures with which to fight the virus, the public must find the balance between legitimate protest and irresponsible behavior.

Not wearing face masks in public as an act of defiance, attending parties that clearly violate social distancing directives and providing a platform for charlatans holding the title of “professor” for the sake of momentary entertainment—these things endanger lives and must stop.

This is the time to fully realize that this virus can wreak havoc on life as we know it. The outbreak hit the global arena at a time of change. Western democracies are faltering; Russia and the United States are clashing using financial instruments; Russia is augmenting crises vis-à-vis Europe; and closer to home, Persian Gulf states are wary of what corona-stricken Iran might do next.

Predicting what’s next is nearly impossible when China is operating in Hong Kong or the South China Sea, or when Turkey is making moves in Libya or Syria. The same is true for Russia’s dubious conduct in what it sees as its backyard.

Meanwhile, the U.S. presidential elections are right around the corner and may lead to a change that will not necessarily benefit Israel. The Trump administration has not excelled in managing the COVID-19 crisis, but a Democratic administration, and especially a Democratic Senate, will weaken the free world.

In other words, the coronavirus pandemic has a highly volatile potential. We have to be vigilant, united and ready for any scenario that comes our way, all while staying as safe and healthy as possible.

This week, the Jewish people will mark Tisha B’Av—the annual day of fasting that commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. With the global pandemic upon us, we don’t have the luxury of wasting time on unjustified hatred.

Yes, we have every reason to be angry: The government is barely functioning, there is no state budget in sight, no “coronavirus cabinet” to speak of, people are losing their livelihoods, and government bureaucracy will be the end of all of us.

Protests and demonstrations are justified, but those protesting cannot afford to lose sight of one important thing: Israel did not suffer a coup—it held democratic elections. Three of them back-to-back, to be exact. Moreover, the High Court of Justice ruled that a prime minister standing trial can remain in office, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s day in court is underway.

Still, there are those who prefer to instigate unrest by all means necessary.

Israeli democracy is not on the verge of collapse. This is not to say that anti-government protests are unjustified, just that the protesters should kick it down a notch with respect to the contempt they show state symbols and the way they are fanning the flames of incitement.

No one is indifferent to the public’s plight and anyone trying to deny its existence was justly excoriated. But Israeli society has always known how not to wallow in self-pity, rise above the tears and devote itself to restoration and growth. We overcame tough situations in the past, and we have the ability to overcome this crisis as well.

Everything we miss now will come back. The cinema, opera, restaurants, entertainment—and the sense of stability. We are now learning to appreciate what we had before. In the meantime, we will learn together how to improve and brace our sense of solidarity and how to make the best out of the current situation, which is here to stay at least for the next few months.

Things will get better, but it’s up to us, too.

Boaz Bismuth is editor in chief of Israel Hayom.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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