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‘It is going to be very, very difficult to oust Netanyahu’ in the midst of COVID-19 crisis

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Last night Benjamin Netanyahu gave another informal speech to his country demanding changes in personal behavior to combat the COVID-19 crisis. He called the pandemic a “plague, not a children’s game… a matter of life and death” and railed at the Israelis he sees crowding the beaches in Tel Aviv “frolicking” and touching one another as they pass. “Love is distance,” he said, in urging citizens to self-isolate.

Netanyahu’s fatherly tone, along with racist attacks on his rivals, and his boasting that Israel is at the “forefront” of global responses to the contagion, has put him right where he wants to be politically: the indispensable Prime Minister, even as his rival Benny Gantz struggles to build a coalition to put him out of office.

“It’s going to be virtually–I’m not going to say impossible, but it’s going to very, very difficult to oust Netanyahu at this juncture,” says Eli Kowaz of the Israel Policy Forum. “For [rival] Benny Gantz to form a minority government, now in the middle of all this– I think it would be controversial within Israel.”

Gantz has the official nod to form a new government, because 61 newly-elected members of the Knesset support his bid to be prime minister. But forming such a government is very difficult, and entails overcoming a racist campaign against Gantz’s reliance on Palestinian legislators to provide 15 “outside” votes in his favor. The coronavirus crisis has increased pressure on Gantz to make a “unity” government between the two largest Jewish parties, Gantz’s Blue and White party and Netanyahu’s Likud; and in that scenario Netanyahu would likely stay prime minister under a rotation agreement.

Netanyahu has faced criticism for arrogating executive powers in the crisis, such as cellphone tracking of citizens, and because his justice minister has postponed Netanyahu’s trial on corruption charges for two months. But he has also made himself “the indispensable and sole messenger to Israel about the coronavirus,” Kowaz says.

And that has made him very popular with Israeli citizens. “There was a poll taken a couple of days ago… showing that… between 60 to 70 percent of Israelis support Netanayhu’s handling of the crisis,” Evan Gottesman says on the same IFP podcast. “So to take him out of the prime minister’s seat now?… There are going to be some people who are going to say This is not the time.” Netanyahu’s role reinforces “this image of himself that he’s built up that the’s the only responsible and competent steward of Israel’s national security, of the welfare of its citizens.”

The New York Times has a similar report. The “crisis has strengthened Netanyahu,” says political scientist Shlomo Avineri.

The counter trend in Israeli politics during the crisis is an effort led by the Palestinian Joint List to disqualify Netanyahu by pointing out how much all Israel depends on Palestinians in health care jobs.

Palestinian leader Ayman Odeh calls out Netanyahus racism. He stands before a billboard that warns Israelis that Netanyahu rival Benny Gantz seeks to build a government with the help of Arabs, picturing Odeh and Ahmad Tibi. Screenshot from twitter, March 13, 2020.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Palestinian Joint List, which has supported Netanyahu’s rival, has argued that the coronavirus and Netanyahu’s racism show that the PM’s time is past. He tweets (per translation service):

Heroes. At the time of the isolation, over 600 Arab and Jewish medical professionals teach us that we can live together in peace and equality.

“The voice of an Arab citizen in the polls is the voice of an Arab doctor in the operating room”

While it is frequently noted that Joint List leader Ahmad Tibi is a medical doctor actively serving people. Tibi has been the target of endless racist attacks in recent weeks. For his part he says that Netanyahu has failed as a minister of health because hospitals are unprepared for the virus.

Dr. Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, suits up to treat patients. From his twitter feed, March 13, 2020.

The only physician in the Knesset is Ahmad Tibi, Eli Kowaz says. And: “18 percent of doctors and 24 percent of nurses and 47 percent of pharmacists in Israel are Arab.”

The liberal Zionist group Americans for Peace Now has noted the service of Palestinian professionals in imploring Israelis and Palestinians to come to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. James Klutznick and Aviva Meyer write:

In such times, you cannot but wonder why Israelis and Palestinians do not harness their shared humanity, their common sense and their sense of common future to end the bloody conflict between them. Unlike pandemics, wildfires and earthquakes, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is manmade. And this manmade calamity can be undone by humans – if they find it within themselves to relate to the other as humans, as equals, as equally human…

We also know that once Coronavirus is contained and defeated, the Israelis and Palestinians that we so deeply care about will be left with a malignant conflict that has been plaguing their societies for almost a century.

There is a viable solution to this conflict, and we hope that the traumatic experience we are currently experiencing will make the solution easier to comprehend, grasp, and achieve.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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4 Responses

  1. Misterioso on March 18, 2020, 7:21 pm

    “Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Palestinian Joint List.” —
    ‘At the time of the isolation, over 600 Arab and Jewish medical professionals teach us that we can live together in peace and equality.’

    ‘The voice of an Arab citizen in the polls is the voice of an Arab doctor in the operating room.’

    “Arab Israelis Fight Coronavirus as First-class Doctors but Second-class Citizens” “They account for 17 percent of the country’s doctors and save Jewish lives 24/7. But when it comes to representation in government, even in the times of the coronavirus, Netanyahu thinks they are a danger.” Haaretz, May 17, 2020, by Lee Yaron.

    “It was Saturday evening and she had just finished a 12-hour emergency room shift at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, treating suspected coronavirus patients who were in isolation. Having finally made it home to rest a bit before her next shift, Dr. Suad Haj Yihye Yassin sat down in her living room to watch Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address the nation about the emergency situation with which she is so very familiar. She’s 31, at the end of her residency in clinical immunology. She and her husband, who’s a surgeon, live in Tel Hashomer, outside of Tel Aviv, where they are raising their 3-year-old daughter between their long shifts.

    “’I treat everyone who comes to the hospital, it has never and it will never matter to me if they are Jewish or Arab; every person, no matter their race or gender, will get the best care from me,’ she says. ‘When I come home from the emergency room, after I’ve given my all to treat everyone, and hear the prime minister say that we have to form a national unity government to deal with the crisis – but without the Arabs, as if we are second-rate citizens – it hurts. Why is it OK for us to be on the front lines in the hospitals dealing with corona, but not legitimate for us to be in the government?’

    “Over the past week she had encountered a number of social media posts by Netanyahu, who repeatedly wrote on his Facebook page that a government with the predominantly Arab Joint List would be ‘a disaster for Israel,’ or a ‘danger to Israel.’ On Sunday Netanyahu added, ‘While Prime Minister Netanyahu is managing an unprecedented global and national crisis in the most responsible and balanced way, [Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny] Gantz is galloping toward a minority government that’s dependent on Balad, Heba Yazbak and supporters of terror, rather than join a national emergency government that will save lives.’

    “’It’s sad to hear the prime minister refer to me as a ticking threat, when in fact we are the ones who are neutralizing the danger and saving patients,’ says Yassin. ‘In the hospitals the work of Jewish-Arab teams together is an example of exemplary coexistence; we all work together, shoulder to shoulder, without any distinctions.’

    “Yassin testifies that in contrast to the good relations between Jewish and Arab medical personnel that she says constitute a model for Jewish-Arab cooperation, when it comes to patients’ attitudes, politics and racism frequently enter the hospital. She says that in recent years she has periodically encountered racism from Jewish patients who refused to be treated by her because she is Arab.

    “’I had a patient who came to me from a different department and who told me that she had refused to be admitted there because the doctors are Arabs,’ she recalls. ‘I looked at her and told her that I’m also an Arab and she looked surprised. She said I don’t look like one and asked for another doctor to treat her.’

    “’I’m proud that I’m an Arab, that I’m a doctor and that I save lives,’ she says. ‘Once I had a patient who was suffering from stomach pains and I was delayed with another patient whose condition was more urgent, and [the first patient] and her husband started screaming at me that I’m a dirty Arab and shouldn’t be working in a hospital. I ignore it and provide treatment anyway.’

    “Yassin has been working in the health system a bit less than a decade, but Prof. Jihad Bishara, the director of the infectious diseases unit at Rabin Medical Center, Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, has been treating Jews and Arabs for 30 years. For the past few days he has been part of the team treating those ill with coronavirus at the hospital.

    “’Within the hospital I disengage from politics, I do my work without any connection to what’s going on outside; it doesn’t influence me during my daily work,’ he says. ‘We are dealing with an emergency situation of a coronavirus epidemic and I am treating patients myself; we are all putting ourselves at risk to treat everyone. Doctors haven’t heard about racism; for decades I’ve been saving Jewish lives every day.’

    “’As a citizen I’ll admit that the incitement really bothers me; they are saying intolerable things about our community, but unfortunately we’ve gotten used to it,’ Bishara says. ‘They are saying that as a citizen I’m not good enough, that my representatives are not human beings enough to be partners in the government – but I am good enough to be at the top of the pyramid of saving lives.’

    “Bishara recalls that upon returning from one of his trips abroad, he was stopped for a security check at Ben-Gurion International Airport and tried to explain to the young woman at border control that he and she were partners, not enemies. ’Why are you stopping me?’ I asked her. ‘Is it for security reasons? To save Jewish lives?’ She said yes. I said, ‘Great – I’ve been doing that for decades, 24/7.’ I said it with great pride and persuasiveness. I am a doctor before anything.’

    “Hillel Yaffeh Medical Center in Hadera inaugurated a new inpatient ward this week: Infectious Diseases Department A, which is dedicated to treating patients with the new coronavirus. The ward has 30 beds; it was renovated and adapted to house patients in isolation and has been equipped with new equipment and technologies. The department is headed by Dr. Jameel Mohsen, a specialist in cardiology and internal medicine who previously worked in the hospital’s cardiac intensive care unit.

    “When asked about the discrimination and racism against the Arab public that has been increasing recently along with the spread of the coronavirus, he also made it clear that he disconnects himself totally from politics.

    “’There is no tension between Jewish and Arab patients; politics doesn’t enter here,’ he says. ‘I have never thought about the ethnic background of a patient; the only thing I’m interested in is that the patient, as a person, recovers. We doctors feel like emissaries in this situation of distress and emergency; we are committed to the health of every single person in the country. All of us, Jews and Arabs, must fight this epidemic together so that everyone recovers. Maybe politics could take example from the fraternity between Arabs and Jews in the hospitals. I very much hope so.'”

  2. Ismail on March 18, 2020, 11:27 pm

    I’m sure that Americans for Peace Now is largely composed of fine folks, that that anodyne statement of theirs is pretty thin gruel.

    Palestinians and Israelis should harness their shared humanity? That’s the problem, insufficient harnessing? This kind of thinking, a sort of empty psychologizing that locates the solution in attaining personal growth and which treats the parties as equally matched will get us precisely nowhere.

    Here’s the deal, as our putative candidate-elect would say; Israel is an aggressor with its boot firmly planted on the necks of the Palestinians. At no time in history has a similar situation been resolved by the mutual, forehead-slapping epiphanies of the opponents – “What were we thinking? If we work together, we can sort out all this nasty business!” Never, ever. Not once. Appeals to recognizing each other’s humanity? Please.
    This is a power imbalance, not marriage counseling.

  3. gingershot on March 19, 2020, 6:10 pm

    Judge Reggie Walton is expected to court order release of the unredacted Mueller Report description of Netanyahu’s crimes against America with
    1- UN 2334/Kushner and
    2- Netanyahu’s orders to Joel Zamel/PsyGroup/Don Trump Jr throwing the election successfully for Trump, then paid 2 million dollars by Nader bagman

    Netanyahu will be pretty easy to move when mature American adults have these facts on the table by which to judge Netanyahu and Trump for themselves, and hear the amazing testimony of Flynn’s call to Kislyak trying again and again to sell America down the river to Kislyak for Russia’s Security Council veto, to China, to great Britain, all at the behest of Netanyahu/Kushner, complete with the decrypted intercepts. Mueller seized Kushner’s computer as well as Zamels, and Kushner basically pleaded the 5th refused to answer questions

    Judge Reggie Walton is going to do it for America

    • gingershot on March 19, 2020, 6:26 pm

      Trump just started threatening to pardon Flynn in the last couple days as this is getting critical with the expected Judge Reggie Walton court-ordered release of Netanyahu’s crimes

      Trump will do anything to protect Netanyahu, that is what Netanyahu and Diaspora is demanding, and that means an attempt or threat of a Flynn pardon

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