Never Out of Touch

(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

First, do no harm. That advice, usually associated with doctors (it’s part of the Hippocratic oath), also applies to politicians. They may not be able to solve the coronavirus crisis, but they shouldn’t make things worse by ridiculing the pain of those who are suffering from it.

The latest example of political insensitivity, bordering on cruelty, came last week from Minister Tzachi Hanegbi. In an interview, he dismissed as “nonsense” claims that many Israelis are struggling to put food on the table in the wake of the corona crisis.

“This talk that ‘people have nothing to eat’ is nonsense,” he said. “There are a million people unemployed, most of whom have so far received unemployment benefits, and now we have to get them back to work. There are businesses that have been hit and are in dire straits, but saying ‘there is nothing to eat’ is populism.”

It’s possible that he’s a sensitive person who just couldn’t live with the knowledge that the government he is part of is responsible for people going hungry. But it’s also possible that, having been in the Knesset for more than 30 years, with a guaranteed (high) salary and benefits, he’s lost touch with the people. And that’s a problem.

No one blames the Israeli government for not coming up with a vaccine or a cure, when no one else in the world has done so. And no one blames it for the economic fallout. But where there is blame, in heaping, justified doses, is when it comes to the gap between what the government promises — in terms of economic assistance — and what it delivers.

Israel has allocated 5.5% of its gross domestic product to help the country pull out of its economic tailspin. That puts it fifth from the bottom out of 17 countries examined, say researchers, above Italy, Japan, Holland and Greece.

What’s worse than the amount of aid is the time it is taking to deliver it. The government blames “bureaucracy,” the convenient fallback, but Hanegbi’s attitude, or at least the attitude reflected in his statement, gives rise to suspicions that the problem isn’t lack of ability, but lack of desire to help.

One of the things that characterizes chareidi politicians is that they never lose touch with the public. They have to go to minyan, where they see what people are going through. They are in touch with their Rabbanim. They receive calls day and night from people in need, and are known to do everything they can to help.

It’s no surprise that it was two chareidi MKs, Rabbis Moshe Gafni and Uri Maklev, who introduced a bill to delete from company and bank records all credit card data from the coronavirus crisis period.

“This is a law of social importance of the first order, ensuring that people who found themselves in financial straits due to the coronavirus crisis will not be marked as having a bad credit rating for the future,” Rabbi Gafni said.

And it’s no surprise that it took a chareidi health minister to understand that dental care is part of overall health care and should be covered by national health insurance.

Ashreinu. How fortunate and proud we are to have such representatives in the Knesset and in the government.