Situating Netanyahu amid COVID-19 by Martins Agbonlahor

The current coronavirus pandemic is blowing across every part of the globe, leaving in its trail protests and other forms of civil disobedience. In Zimbabwe, a corrupt government – bereft of ideas – visited its frustration on defenceless protesters, resulting in people being maimed and many more railroaded into jails. Brazil’s Bolsonaro, who refuses to believe in the existence of the virus, is presently stewing in his own juice, as innocent Brazilians are dying in their thousands. In the state of Israel, rioters occupied major roads, as flags and placards depicting various messages billowed in the air like Christmas confetti. They are demanding the Prime Minister’s resignation for not acting in time to rein in the virus, which now stands at 83,000 confirmed cases with 600 deaths. They are also not comfortable with the Prime Minister dragging his feet over an allegation of corruption levied against him.  

While the protest is mounting by the day in defiance of safety and health concerns, Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken a swipe at the protesters, labelling them “anarchists”, which is not really helping matters, not to mention his son, Yair, hurling his own verbal missiles while nestled within the cosy confines of his home. To the privileged child, “those protesters are all aliens.” For all intents and purposes, however, it would appear as if the coronavirus pandemic itself took the lid off an underlying problem that had been plaguing Israeli society. As it would be recalled, the citizens had an election that failed to produce a clear victor, irrespective of the fact they had gone to the polls for the third time. A coalition was fashioned out between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and the Blue and White Party of former military commander, Benny Gantz – a unity government that many people berated as a “marriage of convenience” that would allow Netanyahu to hold onto the reins of power. 

Amid the electoral weariness too was the issue of unemployment, which stood between 18 and 21%. There was also the matter of the Prime Minister’s alleged corruption and bribery to deal with, and to compound the volatile situation came the dreadful and dreaded virus with its drastic consequences, chief amongst which were the travel restrictions. This was a blow to some Israeli citizens consumed by wanderlust, and the many more who would, figuratively speaking, not wait for the grapes of the summer vacation to be ripe before being drunk on the wine! Now, His Excellency, the Prime Minister, has promised to dole out some “coronavirus sustenance cash” to his citizens to ostensibly mollify their anger, but the rioters, now wiser, see his gesture as crumbs falling too late from the master’s table. And the riot continues. 

If the State of Israel is to live up to its image as “the only democracy in the Middle East”, then its Prime Minister must hearken to the voice of the people. Netanyahu is no law unto himself and must, therefore, not cloud the issue of his criminal indictment. Instead, he must clear the air and aim for a smoking gun. If he continues to engage in constructive ambiguity and other unorthodox tactics just to divert attention, then that will be a slap in the face of justice, equity and fair play. Even at that, ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should be watching the whole process with a view to seeing if the current PM benefits from selective justice – whether overtly or covertly. As one would recall, Mr Olmert himself was sentenced to jail in 2014 for fraud and bribery – an offence he committed when he was Mayor of Jerusalem. He was only released three years ago, having served 16 months of a 27-month jail term. If Prime Minister Netanyahu fails to cooperate with the courts, and is able to wriggle his way out of the system, then this would set a very bad precedent for other powerful politicians who may fall foul of the law in the future.   

In conclusion, the Prime Minister and his security agents must, as a matter of course, allay the fears of the rioting Israeli citizens by looking into their grievances. Also, while the protesters should not exceed their right to peaceful protests by resorting to vandalism and lawlessness, the police need to be people-friendly and resort to dialogue in the face of the current high-handedness, which to any lover of democracy is counter-productive and prone to inducing more violence. The blood-curdling assassination of ex PM Yitzhak Rabin is still very fresh in
our minds, and we do not want the current demonstration to aggravate further and spiral out of control. 

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