How Israel’s Genius for Quick, Effective, and Inelegant Solutions Helped It Fight the Coronavirus Pandemic

Nov. 22 2021

When the world first became aware of COVID-19’s dangers, the Jewish state was one of the very first to take measures to prevent the spread of the disease; it later led the way with vaccination, and many countries continue to look to it as a model. Arieh Kovler provides a detailed survey of Israel’s public-health strategies, their successes and deficiencies, and the national characteristics that shaped them:

Israel’s emergency-powers framework meant that the cabinet could enact major public-health regulations like lockdowns without the need for immediate legislative approval. These powers included the 1940 Public Health Ordinance, a relic of the British Mandate era, and the broad authority given to the cabinet by Israel’s continuous state of emergency, which has persisted since the state was founded in 1948. This was particularly relevant at the start of the pandemic when the Knesset was in recess, due to the forthcoming elections. The government had no need to consult or legislate; it could simply rule by fiat.

On paper, Israel does have a strong central government, but its writ barely runs in Arab towns, which are largely characterized by skepticism toward the authorities and limited law enforcement. The same is true of ḥaredi towns and neighborhoods, which possess both an independent anti-government attitude and significant political leverage. Ḥaredi and Arab areas tend to have larger families and more multigenerational households, both risk factors in the domestic transmission of COVID-19; they are also more likely to have a lower socioeconomic status vis-à-vis the general population. . . . Across Israel’s four pandemic waves, the Arab and ḥaredi communities represented a disproportionate number of cases.

The Israeli genius is to solve problems quickly, minimally, and inelegantly. For precision-engineered solutions that will work flawlessly for decades, companies go to Germany, Scandinavia, Japan, accepting that it’ll be a few years before they see results. If you need something clever by next week, you come to Israel. It will only barely work, and might even fall apart by the end of the month, but you’ll get what you need. This neatly describes the Israeli approach to non-pharmaceutical interventions [such as lockdowns and contact-tracing] for most of the pandemic.

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Read more at Tel Aviv Review of Books

More about: Coronavirus, Haredim, Israeli Arabs, Israeli politics, Medicine

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror