Israel is now the world leader in new coronavirus disease cases. That is, every other country in the world has fewer coronavirus infections per capita than Israel. Data from Johns Hopkins University has revealed that Israel averaged 199.3 new cases a day per 1 million residents in the week ending September 2. Since then, Israel has only widened the gap.
When COVID-19 first emerged, countries lined up to praise Israel for its handling of the pandemic. But in the second wave, reality aligned itself with our behavior and we have dropped from the zenith to the nadir. Even if we shut down the economy once more, place all cities under quarantine, and every household under stay-at-home orders, we will not find more than a momentary relapse in contagion until we do what we must—change our attitude to one another. Then, and only then we will overcome the virus.
When the virus first appeared I said that it was not an ordinary virus. I cautioned that it is here not in order to shut down the economy but in order to teach us how to relate to one another. So far, we have failed miserably, and so the virus celebrates with record breaking infection rates, total helplessness of the authorities, and depravity suggestive of the last days of Rome.
On the surface, there seems to be a battle between those who want to keep the economy running and sustain people’s livelihoods, and those who want to restrict economic and public activities and sustain people’s lives. In my view, as long as we treat each other with such derision and disdain, we will sustain neither.
The whole problem with the measures we are taking in order to avoid contagion is not the measures themselves, but that we are taking them in order to protect ourselves instead of others. When the motivation is so self-centered, those who are young and healthy, and not in the risk groups, or who believe that the disease is nothing but fake news, have no reason to comply with instructions. By doing so, they not only increase the risk to the lives of those at risk, they also increase hatred and alienation in society, and this is the real problem.
We need to treat the masks, vaccinations, and all the other measures not as medical tools, but as social tools that help us portray our relation to others. If we change our relation to others, we will be able to open the economy without any limitations and the virus will be gone in no time. But first, we need to show our efforts to change our attitude to one another, and the way to show it goes through wearing masks, keeping social distancing, and doing everything required in order to preserve the lives and health of our fellow persons. Not our own lives, but those of others around us.
The State of Israel is always at the center of attention. Just as countries lined up to praise us when we succeeded in curbing the virus in the beginning, they now stand bewildered at our colossal failure to do the same in the second wave. If we show the world that the way to oust the virus is through unity, the world will follow suit, and, as a result, a new, united society will emerge around the world.
We must remember that the State of Israel, as are the people of Israel, is not just another country. It was established to enable the people of Israel to carry out its duty to the world—to set an example of unity above divisions and show the nations how they can do it, too. Here in Israel we are meant to become “a light unto nations” by uniting “as one man with one heart.”
Despite recent agreements, the Arab world as a whole will not make peace with us, and the world will not support our being here, as long as we do not make peace with one another. Instead, the nations will blame us for inciting wars and taking a land that is not ours, as UNESCO has been saying for several years now.
Covid-19 has given us an opportunity to change our relation to one another, thereby change the world’s relation to us, and thereby change the nations’ relation to one another. We shouldn’t underestimate our power to do good, or bad, to the entire world. If we rise to the challenge and unite, we will oust the coronavirus, the world, too, will learn that the solution to the pandemic lies in positive relations and will do the same, the pandemic will disappear, and the entire global society will change for the better.