Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the arrival of the first batch of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines in Israel / (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
If coronavirus had been expected to kill Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chances of winning the next election, according to polls, the coronavirus vaccination could be his “green passport” to victory.
The fight that went on for months between Likud and Blue and White was over whether elections should be held in March or in June, with Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz wanting the former and Netanyahu the latter, because the prime minister feared going to an election during a pandemic.
Gantz won the battle and elections were set for March 23. But little did he know that Netanyahu would pick up the pace, make Israel the fastest country in the world to get vaccinated, and change the election from one held in the shadow of a pandemic to one executed during a possible post-virus victory.
“The agreement that I have made with Pfizer will enable us to vaccinate all citizens of Israel over the age of 16 by the end of March and perhaps even earlier,” Netanyahu said Thursday during a public address that was broadcast on all major TV outlets.
The irony of the timing cannot be ignored: Pfizer was likely making a strategic business decision, but it is saving Israel and could end up inadvertently rescuing Netanyahu as well.
If the majority of Israelis have been jabbed by mid-March and have green passports in hand when they go to vote, Israelis will “get back to life,” as per the name of the vaccination campaign.
Israelis have short-term memories – you have to, if you want to live in a country where one day there is a bus bombing and the next day you have to go to work. Our ability to forgive, forget and look forward is part of our signature national resilience.
And, so too, it can be expected that after a few visits to the movie theater, sporting events and restaurant-made meals in lieu of Netflix, as well as running solo and delivery, Israelis will cast off the last year as if it were a nightmare for the dream of better times.
PICTURES OF special “coronavirus polling stations” presented by the Central Elections Committee will be just that – mocked up photographs of the coronavirus election that could have been.
Perhaps masks and social distancing will still be required, but if around five million Israelis have been vaccinated or recovered from corona – achieving herd immunity – then few, if any, special booths will be needed on the day citizens of the country cast their ballots.
Fears harbored by Israel’s oldest voters that going to the polls could put their lives at risk will dissipate, allowing for at least average voter turnout.
If the last election is any indication – when Israel assumed voter turnout would be lowest during a third election in a-year-and-a-half but 71.5% of Israelis voted – the country could then see record numbers also.
Greater voter turnout tends to help larger parties, because niche parties have a smaller but set pool of voters.
Finally, many believed that following the ousting of US President Donald Trump, Netanyahu would no longer be needed, and he could even become a liability for US-Israel relations.
The US capitol riots further ignited fears that Israel, due to Netanyahu’s close ties with the president, could be brought down alongside Trump’s social media accounts.
But once again, Netanyahu proved otherwise, negotiating millions of vaccines by presenting Israel as a model country for vaccination to the world – a light unto the nations.
“In recent weeks, I have held 17 conversations with my friend, Pfizer chairman and CEO Albert Bourla,” Netanyahu said Thursday night. “The last conversation was held in the past 24 hours. This evening I am excited to inform you about a tremendous breakthrough that will pull us out of the coronavirus and get us back to life. We will be the first country in the world to emerge from the coronavirus.”
He went on to explain that as part of the agreement with Pfizer, “Israel will be a global model state for the rapid vaccination of an entire country” and provide the company with “statistical data that will help develop strategies for defeating the coronavirus.”
Later, it was reported that the data will also be shared with the World Health Organization.
NETANYAHU’S THEATRICAL performance conjured up images of his presentation from the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv in 2018, where he informed the public that Israeli spies had nabbed the Iranian nuclear archive.
He likes to brag that Israel can do what no other country can accomplish under his leadership; that Israel is better than the world. According to Netanyahu, Israeli cows give more milk than other cows, just as Israel’s health system can vaccinate more people in less time.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Friday that several European leaders, including the chancellor of Austria, the prime minister of Denmark and the president of Cyprus, have called in recent days to congratulate Netanyahu on the successful vaccination campaign taking place in Israel and to be updated on its details.
The note mentioned that Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, discussed possible “cooperation between the two countries” on the subject of vaccination. Media outlets later reported that he had also asked Netanyahu to share vaccines with his country.
And there are surely more countries lining up for Israel’s help.
Now, Netanyahu can claim he does not need Trump – that he is in a league of his own.
Far from March being a low-point for Netanyahu in which a country suffering through a pandemic would have overthrown him in frustration, in 70 days, the timing could be pitch-perfect. A country that should be among the first to rid itself of coronavirus could turn around and vote for him in gratitude.