With 3000 new cases a day, Israel is ranked at present as number one in the ratio of corona cases per million inhabitants.
And there are very good reasons why this has happened. I want to point out the major ones, most of which stem from Israeli culture, which has been a periodical subject of articles in this blog.
- Everything in Israel is political. Sports, flight schedules, licensing food outlets, planning bus lines, advertising, accreditation of universities; you name it. Because of our political system, or lack thereof, neither the left or the right can form a government without the ultra-religious factions, and so-most decision making serve as a platform to placate the ultra-religious minority. In the case of corona, religious politicians want to preserve their style of communal life, which means life-as-usual.
- Due to their life-style dominated by lots of family-based activities, large families living in cramped quarters and large study halls for religious studies, the ultra orthodox cities and neighbourhoods are petri dishes for breeding corona. Yet the political power that they hold (see 1), prevents decision making which would negatively impact their way of life.
- Arab Israelis have a lifestyle rich in family occasions with multiple generations in one home. They also tend to view themselves as victims all the time, and dish out blame and responsibility to the state at the same time as not fully cooperating. This mentality when coupled with religious based fatalism creates a “what will be will be” mentality, which impacts the lack of mask wearing and social distancing.
- The secular Israeli community are sprint runners. Creative, highly undisciplined, innovative and short cutters, this community has created a plethora of innovations in telefonia, agriculture, water management, IT solutions, fintech, traffic control and what have you. Most of this has been done by doing things differently and challenging common accepted practice. This community can solve impossible problems, but cannot deal with problems that need routine and discipline. “We can outsmart problems” is a typical mindset of this sector. Which is the major reason why almost all Israel innovation gets acquired by companies abroad and does not scale up from Israel; our behaviours are not disciplined or scalable. Fighting corona entails following routine with discipline. Need I say more!
- Israel is held together by a state of conflict with our Lebanese, Syrian and Iranian neighbours. Other than that, there is very little cohesion between the sectors of Israelis society. We all go to different schools; we do not pay the same level of tax; the threads which bind us together are very thin. The solidarity needed to fight corona is totally non existent. For example, when the government wants to limit prayer to 20 people, it quickly comes to “we cannot agree to limit prayer participation if people flock to the beach by the thousand”. So no decision gets made.
- There is very little enforcement in Israel, except for tax collection and speeding. Everyone has an excuse and the heavy hand of enforcement just isn’t there.
- The political elite initially set down a list of limitations on public behaviour and then were the first to violate them, caught red handed. So leadership lost the trust of the masses. No one believes anything that leadership says anymore.
- Israelis have the capacity to live in very tough situations for the longest time. In other words, life can and does go on as we absorb a severe and constant beating. So Corona has become another missile from Gaza or Lebanon, that is, something that you need to live with. This ability to live along side of tragedy is a gift, yet a two pronged sword as well.
So what will happen? My guess is that when the virus subsides, it will subside here as well. Israel is like a boxer with a glass chin. We have a great punch, but corona has landed a left hook and we are out on our feet. Or, when someone finds a vaccine, the nightmare will end. Until then, wish us luck.