Survival versus Freedom? Questions in the time of Corona

Survival versus Freedom? Questions in the time of Corona

From a demonstration 25th March, outside the Israel Museum by the Knesset: “Democracy. To Be a Free People”

Across the Coronized world we are sharing common experiences, common concerns, and common questions.

In particular we can reflect on the reverberating tensions between our freedom, and our need to stay safe and healthy. More than ever before, our existential concerns (To Be) are taking priority over our freedom of choice through ever-tightening restrictions.

In Israel, these tensions are coming to the fore in the public sphere.

On the health front, Israel is fighting the Corona virus in the knowledge that emergency hospital beds are in terribly short supply. As a result Israel’s shutdown arrived much earlier than other places in the world, and we watch the rising numbers of the sick with deep concern.

At the same time, we are undergoing a terrible crisis in the way the Israeli people can make choices for their lives through a democratic process.

Irrespective of Corona, we have not had an elected government in 15 months. Unfortunately our third General Election has still not returned results that allow for the formation of a new government.

Our Prime Minister is in effect our Acting Prime Minister, with an Acting Cabinet.

The public’s free choice, returning a slim majority in favor of ousting Benjamin Netanyahu, has not been implemented.

This would be troubling in the best of times, but concerns grow in the time of Corona. Deep and sharp restrictions to Israel’s Western-style democracy have been enforced by our Acting Government.

The long-awaited court appearance of Benjamin Netanyahu was postponed when the courts were closed down due to Corona.

All Israelis were put under surveillance from Israel’s Secret Service, without any oversight of our elected representatives.

And the Knesset itself was closed down, purportedly because of Corona concerns.

(To put this final point in worrying perspective, the Knesset was not even closed during the Yom Kippur War, and the Italian Parliament is still functioning.)

The Knesset is now briefly open, as the Acting Speaker of the House admitted he had not closed it down for reasons of health after all, but in order to create political pressure for the formation of a Government. Oversight committees for the Corona crisis and for surveillance issues, have now been created.

Yet all the Netanyahu-supporting parties have been boycotting sessions, and the Acting Speaker of the House has refused to allow a vote on his replacement, which normally takes place once a government has been formed.

Israel is still in the center of a terrible storm over our freedom to choose who makes fateful choices for us, at precisely the time when these choices are – more than ever before – not just fateful but potentially fatal.

A growing number of people argue that politics should be put aside, and all should compromise in order to form an Emergency Unity Government. They argue that this bickering over narrow political interests are trivial when faced with the harrowing threat of Corona.

Others argue that in particular now, in particular in times of severe Governmentally-enforced restrictions, we must be confident these restrictions are enforced by a Government that is fully representative of the voters’ choices. (At time of writing, restrictions include closing of synagogues, prohibition on walking more than 100 yards from one’s house, no shopping other than for food and medicine – on pain of imprisonment.)

Some argue that our survival must take priority over all else. To Be is above Freedom.

Others argue that survival should not come at the price of Israel’s democracy. To Be must not destroy Freedom.

How are questions of freedom and survival playing out in your lives?


Share this post