While Israel’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic was ahead of the world, the incompetence and internal corruption of this government have continued to provide a perfect example of everything wrong with government institutions that don’t have proper checks and balances.
There are many examples of unnecessarily bureaucratic problems in Israel, but none quite so exemplary as that of Ben-Gurion Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic and, in particular, the last lockdown. Will it finally be enough to shake some sense into the Israeli public that our government must be held accountable for its actions?

For nearly a month, the airport has been shuttered, with no Israelis or foreign citizens allowed in or out, with the exception of those who apply to the “exceptions committee.” Who is on the committee? No one knows. Who decides who is on the committee? No one knows. How to reach the committee? Again, no one knows. Yet human lives are depending on this mysterious committee which is held accountable by absolutely no one, and unreachable to the average citizen. 

Add to that that the conditions under which one applies for an “exception” are vague and arbitrary, and there is case after case arising of corruption in who is granted a permit. As recent news reports from Channel 12 indicated, the committee seems to disproportionately favor ultra-Orthodox, with multiple rescue flights being composed almost entirely of ultra-Orthodox Israelis, as a result of ultra-Orthodox MKs using their position to lobby this committee.

Yet when Israelis, whom I know personally, applied for permits to enter or exit, even for emergency medical treatment for life-threatening conditions like cancer, their applications were denied. How can it be that nearly all the “emergencies” which necessitate travel to or from Israel disproportionately happen to occur in the ultra-Orthodox community? 

Beyond the exceptions committee issue, for months the directives regarding who has to be quarantined, for how long, where, and when they should be tested are constantly changing and somewhat arbitrary, with large gaps in enforcement by sector. I myself was told by a member of the ultra-Orthodox community that his community “doesn’t need to follow these rules,” because members simply “switch SIM cards upon landing to avoid quarantine tracking.” Our intelligence services are capable of tracking down and thwarting the most hi-tech acts of terrorism in the world, but they can’t stop our own citizens from violating the laws? 

This seemingly selective enforcement raises the question: Why do the laws in Israel apply to some and not to others – often to entire sectors and not to others? The answer is that our elected officials use their positions in government to help out their “friends,” at the ultimate expense of the entire public, and yes – their own community when it comes to a contagious disease like COVID-19.

The ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset are doing precisely this in how they are approaching the airport closure, but this problem isn’t unique to them. It exists in nearly all parties of the Knesset, whether in the government or the opposition, because Israel has weak rule of law.

Public trust in the government is shockingly low, and why shouldn’t it be, with how our government officials behave? Our government feeds the desire of the public not to be a freier (sucker), which in turn perpetuates a government of cronies. It is precisely for this reason that increasingly draconian directives have been pushed through and shoved down the throats of the law-abiding public. Initial regulations are not enforced (or are enforced selectively), and coronavirus spreads.

While other nations self-quarantine, Israelis refused to abide by regulations, prompting surveillance. When certain communities found a workaround for that, the government proposed coronavirus hotels, and when that didn’t work, they proposed ankle monitors for people entering Israel during quarantine. There is no end to this cycle, unless the people and the government step up and enforce equality under the law. 

It is right that in a representative democracy we appeal to elected representatives to help us, because they absolutely work for us and answer to us. But not to get around the laws – to implement laws in the interest of the public and their electorate.

Granting legal “exemptions” to friends and family will continue to lead Israel down the path of corruption and inequality.

We must implement regulations on the government to limit its influence, we must have zero tolerance for cronyism, and we must demand complete transparency from the government. 

The author is the CEO of Social Lite Creative LLC and a research fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute.