JERUSALEM — During every interview I do these days with American radio talk show hosts to promote our new ALL ISRAEL NEWS website, I’m asked how Israel is doing with the coronavirus and when the country will reopen to Christian and other tourists.
The hosts are shocked when I tell them, with great sorrow, that Israel is currently one of the worst places in the world in terms of containing and crushing the COVID-19 crisis.
- Israel is currently seeing a new record-high number of cases almost every day – in the last 24 hours, nearly 4,000 new cases were reported.
- Currently, Israel has recorded almost 150,000 cases since the outbreak began (30,000 are currently active) and hospitals say they are almost maxed out with serious cases.
- More than 1,000 Israelis have died from the virus – far more than in most Arab-Israeli wars
- Professor Ronni Gamzu, Israel’s coronavirus “czar,” warned last week that Israelis must “stop the insanity” because “the morbidity has risen to another level” that is “very disturbing.”
- The Israeli economy is suffering – unemployment is at 21 percent, no tourists have been allowed into the country since February and the tourism industry here is completely shut down without any prospect of opening any time soon.
In an exclusive interview at the Knesset this week with Yair Lapid, the leader of the opposition in the parliament, I posed the same questions to him: When will Israel reopen its borders to Jewish, Christian and Muslim pilgrims who have prayed and waited their whole lives to visit the Holy Land?
After uttering rare praise for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “great move” to make a “fantastic” peace with the United Arab Emirates, Lapid’s tone shifted markedly.
“Okay, I’m giving you a warning signal – this is the end of the pleasant part of our conversation,” he said. “Now the unpleasant.”
Lapid said that tourists will only be able to come back to Israel “when we have a government that is doing a good job handling the virus and the economy. It is not going to happen with this government, under these circumstances, unfortunately.”
“Hopefully next year,” he added. “I don’t see Israel opening for tourism in the coming months because a tough, tough winter is ahead of us.”
Lapid blasted Netanyahu and the current government for failing to properly handle the virus or the economy, when other governments around the world are doing a far better job.
Here are excerpts from our interview:
YAIR LAPID: Israel usually is a unique case when you talk about foreign policy and security. We’re a small country in the Middle East. A Western country in the Middle East. On the coronavirus – on the COVID-19 – we’re not unique. It’s the same virus all over the world. It’s the same economy all over the world. So, what is the difference between countries who are doing a good job handling the virus – with lower death rates, with lower infection rates, with better economies – and countries who are doing terribly? There is only one difference. Government.
In New Zealand there is a functional government. In Finland, a 34-year-old female [prime minister running the] government is doing an unbelievable job. In Germany, [Chancellor Angela] Merkel is a very good job. And so on – Taiwan, South Korea. Governments are the difference.
Here we now have a government – a horrible, 36-ministers government, a bureaucratic monster – paralyzed because of internal politics, run by a prime minister with three criminal indictments who is preoccupied by his legal issues instead of dealing with the virus itself. And they did everything wrong, and they still do.
What we really need is a much smaller government, a much more coherent government, with coherent plans.
The answers for the COVID-19 crisis lie within scientists, experts, doctors, economists – the people who understand the reality and have an ability to act accordingly.
Instead, we have a prime minister and a substitute prime minister [Benny Gantz] – which is a unique Israeli invention that cannot work — which is a recipe for a paralyzed government and people who seem to be careless in so many ways.
So, if you ask me what this country needs – a different government, because the government is the problem.