Written by IDU member party Likud’s International Director Eli Hazan, Jerusalem, July 2020
After Israel successfully overcame the first wave of coronavirus, what appears to be a second wave is more complex. At the beginning of the pandemic, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to shutdown border crossings and, later on, to institute very strict closures and guidelines. These led to a relatively very low number of patients and deaths – certainly compared to other Western countries. On this basis, many countries around the world sought to learn how to deal with the virus from Israel. Unfortunately, the subsequent exit strategy outlined by the government proved to be deficient.
The main challenge faced by the Israeli government has been balancing the needs of public health with the needs of the economy, knowing that one necessarily comes at the expense of the other. During the first wave, priority was given to health, and this cost Israel over 100 billion shekels (30 billion USD), raising the national debt from 60 to 78 percent of GDP. Facing this challenge, the government decided to relax some pressure and invest in the stability of the economy. The country was opened up, with clear guidelines to prevent infection.Sadly, the Israeli public, seeing that the number of deaths in the first wave was relatively small, did not follow the instructions given. The rate of COVID-19 infections has been rising steadily since Israel exited quarantines. In recent weeks, close to 2,000 people have been infected with the virus almost every day – a very high rate for such a small country.
The new (and fourth) Netanyahu government – a government of national unity formed during the first wave – has announced interim steps to avoid another general lockdown. Instead, it will severely restrict movement of people: for example, synagogues will be closed, students will not be able to return to study in educational institutions and many businesses, beaches and restaurants will be closed for the weekends limiting them to takeout and delivery. Gatherings of up to a maximum of 10 people indoors and 20 outside will be possible.
In addition, the Prime Minister has decided to give one-time grants to singles and families, with the aim of stimulating the economy out of what is now a severe slowdown. It is important to note that this plays to Netanyahu’s strength, having pulled Israel out of economic crises several times in the past. The most notable one was in 2003, when he succeeded in moving the Israeli economy to rapid growth after a difficult period. Hopefully this time too he will succeed. History is certainly on his side.