Israel's Defense Minister Bennett takes the bull by the horns
Israel's Defense Minister Bennett takes the bull by the horns

Defence Minister Naftali Bennett (Yamina party) has strong ideas. And he has started openly talking his mind directly to the public. By doing this, he may prevent the civil unrest that is seething right now like a volcano getting ready to burst.

In a press conference he held yesterday, Bennett told us that just this morning he learned that 300 people were let go from their jobs at Elbit and 600 from Coca Cola. This kind of things happens every day during the corona crisis, he said.

That is against the backdrop of the opening of the three Ikea stores yesterday while almost all stores and services across the country are still under closure orders. According to ynet, as a result of the opening of Ikea, shop owners in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda open market announced that all the nation’s open air markets are going to open on Sunday.

Perhaps that is why Bennett came out publicly with his plan. Because without a plan that is coherent, one that gives hope, desperate people can begin to behave irresponsibly.

Both yesterday and the day before that, Bennett held open press conferences that are available for all to see on his Facebook page. The first time he spoke in rather general terms and was quite animated with emotion at times; yesterday he spoke of a specific plan for reviving the economy that has to be the first order of business even before the new government is sworn in. In fact, he proposes gradual opening schools and shops beginning on Sunday – that is, in three more days.

The only grades to open, in addition to preschools, would be 1-3 and 11-12. This means that schools would be half-empty and classes can be split up to reduce congestion and space pupils farther apart from each other than usual, if the teachers can be found However, it is hard to believe that the young children will not engage in contact sports in the yard and will avoid touching each other. Unless the masks they will have to wear will remind them of the seriousness of the situation. In any case, special care of the elderly will remain in place so school children should not be coming into contact with grandparents.

Shops can open up, according to Bennett, as long as people maintain the social distancing practices with which we have become familiar. In two weeks, the situation can be reappraised and if the number of hospitalizations has not increased beyond a certain factor, then another step can be taken. If it exceeds a preset level, the situation can be frozen and if it increases too greatly, then lockdown can be reinstated. This is clear and rational, although it may present a certain danger factor to those actively involved.

In yesterday’s press conference Bennett declared emotionally that “we are at war”. He went on, saying:

“Nobody is taking into consideration the harmful effects of the lockdown on the million one hundred unemployed. What does it do to their health? How many of them will suffer from depression? How many will become anxious? How many divorces will there be? How many suicides will there be? How many hungry children will there be? What about that? Everything is [concentrated on] the 187 [mostly] elderly who unfortunately died from Corona? Is there no balance?

Why did Bennett announce a clear plan today with clear steps? Perhaps he took his cue from Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu who has had the habit, lately, of announcing new lockdown rules on the evening news before the government has had a chance to approve or disapprove them.

At the same time, perhaps Bennett did not like to have to remind people in retrospect, after the ministerial coalition changes, of the kind of influence he has had and would prefer the public to know in real time. For example, he made it clear after the 2014 Gaza War that he was the one who compelled the government to order the destruction of the Hamas terrorist tunnels which had been kept secret and not treated seriously. State Comptroller Joseph Shapira confirmed that the laissez-faire attitude of Netanyahu and then Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon endangered the country and it was Bennett who pushed for the tunnels' destruction.

In the current crisis, it was Bennett who fought to keep the construction and agricultural sectors open in spite of the insistence of the Health Ministry that they be included in the lockdown. Bennett mentioned that in his press conference yesterday because many people may not know that he was behind this very positive decision.

Today Bennett is fighting what he calls the "nonchalant approach" of the government to the lockdown, saying it is too easy to lock down this and lock down that, “but this is not a game. It is people’s livelihoods.”

Bennett told the audience that he entered politics in order to have an influence on policies and actions of the government. Unsure of whether or not his party will enter the next government, he is using the time he still has as defense minister to do as much as he can to make his voice heard. 

And maybe he is having an effect because as I write these lines, the Education Ministry announced that if current trends continue, grades 1-3 will be back at school this coming Thursday.