Anger over Netanyahu’s virus response

Anger over Netanyahu’s virus response

For three nights this week thousands of young Israelis, provoked by what they see as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s flubbed response to the coronavirus scourge, shook off a long political slumber, blocked the streets outside his official residence and demanded that he quit.

Many were not even of voting age when Netanyahu  took office in Israel 11 years ago.  But their anger signalled that his storied political survival skills are confronting a new risk.

“We have woken up,” read an enormous banner on a nearby building.

“We’ve learned that we have to look out for ourselves,” said Maayan Shrem, 25, a youth counsellor and former combat soldier who came to Thursday night’s protest from his hometown, Karmiel, a two-hour bus ride from Jerusalem. Holding a placard that read “We will not cease to fight for our country,” his friend, Oren Gery, 26, added, “Change has to come from the bottom up.”

While the fury reflects a multitude of grievances, they have converged around one man: a Prime Minister who is a defendant in a corruption trial is now blamed for a colossal failure in dealing with the health and economic crises caused by the virus pandemic, and is resorting to what critics call undemocratic measures to retain power.

The public revolt signals yet another stunning turnaround for Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister, who has managed to cling to his seat through three touch-and-go elections since April 2019.

Above all, a prevailing sense of chaos pervades the government’s handling of the recent resurgence of the virus, prompting growing criticism even from the heart of Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party.

“There’s a disconnect between the government and the public and the local authorities,” Haim Bibas, the Likud mayor of the central city of Modiin and the powerful chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel, said in an interview on Friday. The local authorities have been instrumental in battling the virus on the ground.

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