Choosing Corona Czar Proves Challenging

israel corona czar
Former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkott. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

There seems to be a consensus that Israel needs a “coronavirus czar,” one person who will be charged with overseeing the country’s response to the pandemic.

But since last week, when Health Minister Yuli Edelstein promised he would make the appointment “soon,” the names of possible czars have been discussed in the media, but none have been chosen.

On Sunday, Edelstein’s office, apparently irritated by the manner of the speculation, issued a statement. “As opposed to many recent publications, the Health Minister is not waging a war on choosing the next coronavirus manager. We understand the need to spice up news items, but it’s a shame because it’s simply not true. Minister Edelstein is examining all suitable candidates,” the statement read, without elaborating on whom Edelstein might be waging war against or for.

However, the name currently most prominent in the discussion is that of Dr. Gabi Barbash, who was director general of the Health Ministry in the 1990s and the director of Ichilov Medical Center from 1999 to 2015. Barbash these days has been an outspoken commentator on the government’s handling of the crisis and a contributor to Channel 12.

Barabash was reportedly the putative czar, and announcement of his appointment was thought to be imminent. But as of Sunday evening, no name had been announced.

Meanwhile, Danny Yatom, chief of the Mossad from 1996 to 1998 and later a Labor MK, put in a word against the hiring of a medical professional, whether Barbash or any other.

“It appears that there is another embarrassing decision by the Israeli government — appointing a doctor to lead the fight against the coronavirus, which is a terrible mistake,” he said, referring specifically to Barbash.

“This crisis covers a lot more than just lab exams and hospital beds. It touches every ministry in the government, whose efforts need to be coordinated and overseen. There are more qualified candidates on the list. Why didn’t they respond to Eizenkot’s offer?”

Last week, former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot offered to be the czar after Major General (res.) Roni Numa refused an offer from the Health Ministry.

“A very serious group … offered it to me. They asked me, ‘If they offer it to you, will you accept it?” Eizenkot told Yediot Acharonot. “I said that I was a soldier of the state for any mission. But they did not get back to me regarding the offer.”

In the present situation, as the government struggles to cope with the second wave of the coronavirus, he said, “I do not know anyone who would be approached and not put everything else aside and enlist” in the fight.

Saying that he would accept the offer if asked again, Eizenkot added, “It’s not too late to build such an operation.”

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