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A Story of Two Ministers

These two minor, obscure ministers played a symbolic role in the national crisis. Their stories shed light on where we are — and cast a shadow on where we are going. 
[additional-authors]
October 6, 2020

There is no reason for Americans to know who minister Gila Gamliel and former minister Asaf Zamir are. Both were appointed to relatively junior positions in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz’s unity government. Neither played a major role in Israel’s debates about the coronavirus and corruption. And yet, in the past couple of days, these two minor, obscure ministers played a symbolic role in the national crisis. Their stories shed light on where we are — and cast a shadow on where we are going. 

Zamir was a deputy mayor of Tel Aviv. He joined Blue and White and, when his party joined the coalition, he became the Minister of Tourism. In the good old days, that was a halfway decent position, but during the COVID-19 lockdown, he was a minister of nothing. 

Zamir is smart and impressive, young and energetic. And he was the first of the Blue and White ministers to say enough is enough and resign. The country is on the “verge of total collapse,” he said in one interview after his resignation. He also said that his resignation was meant to “shake things up.” Indeed, it did.

Zamir was not an important member of the government but the sentiment he acted on is shared by many of his collogues. When he decided to vacate his seat, he made them look weak and hesitant. He forced them into a more combative mood. For a long time, Blue and White was waiting for Netanyahu to dismantle the government when it suited him; they knew it was probably coming but decided to stick with him until he made the move. Now, they aren’t sure that waiting was the best tactic. On the one hand, holding another election is crazy, and leaving their posts is irresponsible. On the other hand, they can no longer stand him. 

 Israel’s second lockdown is a depressing occurrence primarily  because no one believes that it will be the last one.

Israel’s second lockdown is a depressing occurrence primarily because no one believes that it will be the last one; that anyone has a clue what to do next; or that  anyone is ready to take responsibility for what’s going on. Which leads to Likud’s Gamliel, the Minister of Environmental Protection. She is young (46) and ambitious. She is also disgraceful. On Yom Kippur, when Israelis were asked not to leave their neighborhoods, she traveled almost 100 miles from her home in Tel Aviv to be with family in Tiberius. She went to the synagogue, which is where it is believed she contracted the coronavirus. She then evaded the epidemiological investigation. 

Two ministers: one who no longer can take responsibility for actions he cannot accept, and one who doesn’t follow the restrictions of the government of which she is a member. This is what the beginning of chaos looks like. On the one hand, Zamir’s act adds to the sentiment of people who believe that government decrees are illegitimate and therefore don’t have to be followed. On the other hand, Gamliel’s act adds to the same sentiment as an example of how even the ministers no longer feel obligated to accept these edicts. 

The rest is obvious: hundreds of Charedi men in Bnei Brak refused to leave a synagogue in which they gathered, defying restrictions. Hundreds of protesters in Tel Aviv refused to disperse despite police requests. Many thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands or millions, who don’t take the lockdown — nor the government — seriously.   

This is scary and dangerous. This is disappointing and depressing. It is not a lockdown; it is a logjam. Israel has a government that can’t govern but whose citizens have no viable alternative; a prime minister who can’t be trusted but refuses to step down; a populace that can’t pull together and elect someone else, as the past three elections have proved; sectors of the population that won’t act responsibly and follow the rules (the Charedi challenge is more dramatic than predicted); and a police force that’s divided by conflicting demands  — enforce the rules but don’t use force — in the face of lockdown scofflaws and protesters.  

Israel is stuck and Israelis’ only hope is that it doesn’t get much worse before it gets better.   

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