Police enforce lockdown near Jerusalem
Police enforce lockdown near JerusalemOlivier Fitoussi/Flash90

The failure up to now of Israeli society and its government to win the battle of attrition with the hidden, infinitesimal covid virus has left Israelis very angry, frustrated, upset, and probably depressed, both with the government, and with large segments of our fellow citizens.

These negative emotions are extremely natural, and probably rationally understandable and justifiable. This article does not come to dispute them, but rather to put them in a more transcendent, positive perspective. It advocates a psychological mind set that will serve us as an important, long term coping resource.

Our war of attrition with covid is seemingly going to be a very long march. It is imperative that we do not exhaust our emotional coping resources in negativity early on this march. A positive perspective is necessary so that we have the emotional endurance to finish our march with a victorious return to the ‘social normalcy/bottom line’ that has made the State of Israel the glorious beginning of our national redemption.

Positive perspective One : our current failure to properly ‘social distance and wear masks’ is due to our long term social strength of being a society with a very high degree of ‘social collectivity’

In absence of a vaccine, we are fighting the covid virus with the bows and arrows of social distancing, mask wearing, and quarantining. And tragically, social distancing goes against the very grain, is in a head on collision with, our society’s greatest virtue , that of the exceptionally high degree of its social collectivity .

There is no other Western country whose social way of life has Israel’s degree of social collectivity. Israel has the highest degree of child births, family size, practiced religiosity, and authentic, deep cultural autonomy of any Western country.

Specifically, the haredi, religious Zionist, Sehpardi traditionalist, and Arab communities compose more than fifty percent of Israel’s population. The social life of all these sectors is characterized by a high degree of family and collective gatherings, and cultural autonomy. Required social distancing is very challenging for these groups because it rips apart the fabric of their daily social life.

As a social conservative, I see the negative fertility, small, non stable families, growing secularization, and social alienation and loneliness that characterize postmodern Western society to be social ills that are eating away at the sustainability of Western society.

In contrast, as a social conservative, I see the religiosity, large families, communal life and authentic cultural autonomy to be the sources of our - Israeli - society’s long term creativity and growth. But right now they are in conflict with our need to social distance. We thus pray that we shall soon be able to return to our large, collective family, religious, and communal gatherings.

Positive perspective Two: No empirically proven, long term game plan for defeating covid exists; thus its emotionally counterproductive to heavily invest in a ‘blame the politicos/leaders’ game

I agree that NetanyahuOur war of attrition is going to be a very long march. To travel down this road, we have to give priority to developing a psychological mind-set that will place faith in our government, while our government has to demonstrate faith in its citizenry.
’s leadership in our second round of combating covid could have been more focused, forceful and pro-active. But even if he had been more focused and pro-active, we would still most likely have ended up stuck and stalled in our war of attrition. This is because that (other than China’s totalitarian, liberty destroying approach), there just does not exist a handbook’ that instructs how to implement a provable strategy for defeating the virus.

In another few years, when all the medical and social research is in, we will be much smarter. But in the meantime, all Western governments are in reality groping in the dark, and conducting trial by error social interventions. Everyday we hear diametrically opposed strategies from top health professors and scientists.

Yes we should invest in constructively criticizing government interventions that do not succeed. Constructive criticism can only enhance the government’s efforts. But we should not end up being a nation of ‘crybabies’, and we should not overly use this national health crisis for short term political or sectarian gain. If there was a provable strategy, and the government because of negligence, or short term political interests, failed to implement the strategy, they could and should be held accountable. But a provable strategy does not exist, and thus we have to demonstrate more ongoing tolerance and good will for our government’s action.

As I said above, our war of attrition is going to be a very long march. To travel down this road, we have to give priority to developing a psychological mind-set that will place faith in our government, while our government has to demonstrate faith in its citizenry.

Positive perspective Three: No one knows the exact, moral formula for balancing two conflicting social aims: avoiding excessive elderly deaths due to corona versus maintaining a prosperous, growing economy

The most glaring reason why our ‘groping in the dark’ governmental interventions have fallen short is our society’s inability to ethically decide the ‘elephant in the living room’ question - hard as it is to say it outright - of how many elderly deaths justify what degree of economic paralysis. ‘Social distancing and mask wearing’ is a euphemism for a serious inhibiting of economic activity. A prosperous economy cannot co-exist with social distancing and mask wearing. An a-moral trade off between elderly deaths and heightened economic activity is inevitable.

And today, lacking empirical evidence, no political leader can take responsibility for advocating a clear strategy, either saying “We have to give priority to economic development, and thus we have to accept a 1% death rate, and draconian, undemocratic measures (like in China) to isolate the at risk elderly population and quarantine them against their will when sick ,“ or advocating the opposite.

We don't have that choice. We have to give priority to saving individual lives. This is the essence of Jewish morality. And if we have to lower our material standard of living in order to save individual lives with a depressed economy, this is the correct ethical choice.

So lacking a proven game plan and adequate scientific research, we just ‘have to continue to muddle through. The most moral strategy seems to be to just ad hoc compromise between the two alternative coping strategies, and hope G-d is giving his blessings to these ad hoc compromises.

To summarize, why do I consider this critical review of our current, built in ‘inadequacy’ a positive take on our war of attrition?

My analysis is ‘positive’ in the sense that it provides a clear basis for developing a psychological mind-set that will maximize the effectiveness of our emotional and social coping resources.

We must temper our anger and frustration because otherwise we will not have the social stamina and solidarity necessary for victoriously completing our long march.

We must stop playing the blame game against political leaders and social sectors because when there is not a proven, coping game plan they are not really to blame, given the overall picture presented above.

This article is a ‘positive’ call to realistically develop renewed faith

-in our own coping resources,

-in the political/social system of Israel which has created a national miracle in 72 years, and

-in G-d’s Providence.

If we created a state in 1948, and rebuilt the country after the Yom Kippur war, we must demonstrate confidence that we will develop and possess the endurance necessary to win this war of attrition. As our tongue-in-cheek native Israeli axiom goes, If we successfully survived Pharaoh, we will successfully defeat the covid virus in this very frustrating, and sometimes traumatic, war of attrition.

Dr. Chaim C. Cohen, whose PhD. is from Hebrew U., is a social worker and teacher at the Hebrew Univ. School of Social Work, and Efrata College.