Trying to prevent events which are spiralling out of control from actually happening is an exercise in futility.
Three challenges currently convulsing the world exemplify this.
They are in no particular order of seriousness the coronavirus pandemic, Israel’s election nightmares and the IOC.
It was always going to be mission impossible to prevent the spread of the virus from China although many experts now claim that if the Chinese Communist authorities had clamped down earlier than they eventually did there would have been a much bigger chance that it could have been contained. The problem is that once you are dealing with an authoritarian system which forbids dissent and revels in secrecy the ability to discover exactly what is happening greatly diminishes. North Korea is a classic example. Who knows how many citizens there have caught the virus and what steps the dictatorship has taken or indeed can take to contain it?
Now that the genie is out of the bottle and this latest plague is spreading worldwide with devastating consequences the priority is for authorities to devise measures which will protect their population. At the same time, there is the tricky question of what steps to take which will at the same time not wreck local and international economies.
Unfortunately, unlike pandemics of previous generations today’s interconnected societies, economies and ease of travel make this balancing act an almost impossible task. It is interesting to see how different countries have gone about tackling this threat. They range from immediate action to half-hearted measures designed to avoid economic disruption. Israel was one of the first countries in the world to institute what many described as draconian regulations but which are aimed at limiting as much as possible the further spread of the plague. These include the virtual sealing of all borders and the immediate repatriation of all tourists in the country many of whom subsequently displayed symptoms. All Israelis returning from overseas are now required to be in quarantine for two weeks. Gatherings of more than one hundred people are banned which means sports and cultural events are cancelled or played in empty stadiums. Latest instructions include prohibition against visiting old age homes and patients in hospitals and refusing entry to the country of all non-citizens unless they can prove that they have made arrangements to quarantine themselves.
As a result, most airlines have stopped flying and Ben Gurion airport is a ghost town. All this, of course, has already resulted in massive economic damage with airlines and the tourist industry taking a major hit. We have just celebrated Purim and in keeping with the spirit of the day online and social media were full of cartoons, jokes and skits. Although the situation is serious nothing it seems can suppress the age-old ability for Jews to laugh at adversity.
Compared to the belated and often hesitant reactions from many other nations our Government’s measures have been prudent, resolute and timely. The Minister of Health put it clearly when he stated that the health of citizens is first priority above all other considerations. Compare this with Iran for example where first there was denial, then suppression of facts followed naturally as one would expect by accusations of foreign (i.e. US and Zionist) conspiracies. As a result, the virus is out of control there and has reached even the highest echelons of the ruling Mullahtocracy. The EU’s open borders and lack of adequate controls combined with dysfunctional manifestations in many places have not helped arrest the spread of what is now acknowledged as a pandemic.
The latest measures just announced include the closing of schools and universities until after Pesach and wonder of wonders trying lessons via the radio. Social media and the internet are other options but the problem is that these many times collapse and crash under pressure. In the late 1940s and early 1950s as the polio epidemic swept New Zealand, schools were closed for several months and I remember listening to our radio at home as daily lessons were broadcast to elementary school children. Back then there was no sign of a vaccine and we remained in lockdown until the danger had passed. At least now there is a possibility of a vaccine. Meantime we need to err on the side of caution, avoid panic shopping and remember to take sensible hygiene precautions.
It is a miracle that despite a third inconclusive election we still have a functioning Government. While coronavirus ravages the globe, Israel is concurrently also facing political Armageddon as a result of the inability of politicians to put the interests of the country before their own selfish egos. We have in essence two leaders who refuse to compromise.
On the one hand, there is Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister who is under indictment for various alleged misdemeanours but who can according to current law continue to serve until a final verdict is handed down. Although presumed innocent until found guilty two questions must be asked. Is it morally correct for someone accused of bribery and corruption to cling to his job instead of handing over to someone else until the conclusion of proceedings? On the other hand, at the age of seventy and after ten years in office is it not time to hand over to a successor? The problem is that all potential successors have been banished. There is no doubt that the present incumbent has achieved much and it is therefore sad that his potential legacy will be sullied by his refusal to retire gracefully. Retirement comes to all of us one way or another and therefore this futile attempt to delay the inevitable is demeaning and unworthy.
On the other hand, the main opposition candidate to take the PM’s job is an uninspiring choice. Despite his party receiving less seats than Likud the “anyone but Bibi agenda” means he has already broken his main election pledge not to seek support from the Arab combined list. It’s not that this Arab party is non-Zionist. It is anti-Zionist with a declared aim of erasing the Jewish character of the country. One of its chief representatives is a former adviser to Arafat and that basically says it all. One of Blue & White’s MK’s stated that “sometimes you have to make deals with the devil.”
We, therefore, face a stark choice between a PM who doesn’t want to accept moral responsibility and an opposition leader (ex. IDF chief of staff no less) who is willing to sell his soul and principles for the sake of attaining power. The longer this farce continues the worse will be the collateral damage. Delaying the inevitable will again prove impossible.
In the face of the pandemic crisis calls are being made for the formation of an emergency Government at least until the threat is eliminated. Let us hope that common sense will finally prevail.
Lastly, we have the spectacle of the International Olympic Committee running true to form and refusing to face reality until it hits them full force in the face. With the Olympic Games in Japan looming and competitors from all over the infected world due to participate in a country suffering from coronavirus infection, the IOC is still dithering whether to postpone or cancel the Games. In a revealing acknowledgement of what really motivates IOC thinking one official is quoted as bemoaning the fact that postponement or heaven forbid cancellation will incur major financial and economic losses of revenue. This then is the overriding factor. Not the health and welfare of the sportsmen and women or the threat of crowd contamination but rather the loss of media and other revenue. Meanwhile, pre Games training and qualification events are in limbo.
Anyone with an understanding of past IOC behaviour will not be surprised. In 1936 the IOC ignored the Nazi German campaign to eradicate, boycott and shun Jews and instead made a pact with the devil himself by allowing the Berlin Games to proceed, sieg heils included. After the Munich massacre, instead of cancelling the Games, the IOC demanded that they carry on and in subsequent years refused to allow official memorial ceremonies to be conducted.
Once again the IOC prefers expediency in the face of unpleasant realities and turns a blind eye to the inevitable consequences.
As we face an uncertain immediate future let us hope and pray that resolute action and the fruits of intense research will minimize what could very well be a historic catastrophe.
Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and is J-Wire’s correspondent in the region.