The phrase was supposedly said by Marie Antoinette in 1789, during one of the famines in France during the reign of her husband, King Louis XVI. “Let them eat cake” is the most famous quote attributed to Marie-Antoinette, the queen of France during the French Revolution. As the story goes, it was the queen’s response upon being told that her starving peasant subjects had no bread. Because cake was more expensive than bread, the anecdote has been cited as an example of Marie-Antoinette’s obliviousness to the conditions and daily lives of ordinary people. In 1792, the French monarchy was abolished, and King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were condemned for treason. Marie Antoinette suffered the same fate as her husband: execution by guillotine.
For the many in Israel, The Bennett-Lapid government is very much out of touch and indifferent to the national mood and public expectation that in the struggle against the coronavirus they are to take responsibility and act decisively. Instead we have witnessed over the past weeks and months, a lack of accountability, and a seeming indifference to the well-being of the public similar to the historical anecdote concerning Marie-Antoinette above.
The most blatant example of the Marie-Antoinette’s mentality in the Bennet-Lapid government was articulated by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaket who showed her apathy towards the Israeli public when she nonchalantly informed us all that we should just get used to dying from corona; " [Israel] needs to know how to accept severe cases and severe deaths because this is a pandemic, and in a pandemic, people die.” This, rather than taking responsibility for the government's negligence in its dealings with the pandemic when returning Israelis brought the new strain into the country; from bringing Israel’s almost 0 daily corona infection rate only three months ago to over 9000 daily infections and bringing Israel’s hospitals to a near-state of collapse.
As of today, seven of Israel’s public hospitals say they will refuse to accept corona admissions. The newly elected Bennett-Lapid government’s helplessness and inability to function when faced with health-related challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic is only the tip of the iceberg. Israel which was not too long ago seen as an example, a kind of perfect model of a country that managed to beat the coronavirus pandemic become in a matter of just a few weeks, just another red country that failed to contain the coronavirus.
The overwhelming national mood for many Israelis is as if the country is sitting on a ticking time bomb waiting for it to explode. Alongside the national sense of impending doom, the Israeli and Jewish value of the sanctity of life seems too have been lost on the Bennett government. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the sanctity of life has always been at the top of Israel’s moral compass. Over the years, the countries of the world have always been amazed to what lengths Israel was willing to negotiate prisoner exchanges, or negotiate the retrieval of fallen soldiers held by our enemies, or even rescue Israeli’s in distress in the far reaches of the world.
During the Syrian civil war, thousands of wounded Syrians were treated for medical conditions in northern Israel, despite the border being closed and declared a war zone. Let’s not ignore the thousands of Gazans that have received and continue to receive lifesaving medical treatment in the center of Israel despite the thousands of missiles, rockets, and arson balloons fired into Israel over the years by Hamas, the Palestinian Gaza based terror organization. This Israeli and Jewish value has allowed us to rise above the daily conflict between Israel and her neighbors only because the sanctity of life has been at the forefront of our value system and an integral part of what differentiated Israel from her neighbors.
With Prime Minister Bennett in charge, and corona virus cases soaring, it becomes increasingly frustrating not to be angry, even infuriated by the irresponsible behavior of our newly elected government and their abandonment of what was always an integral part of Israel’s national identity and a timeless Jewish value; the sanctity of life. The Bennett government has lost control in the war against the corona virus and is guilty for getting us to where we are today with one of the highest infection rates in the world despite the previous Netanyahu government bringing Israel to almost zero infections just three months ago.
However, what has emerged from the governments “new” approach to tackling the coronavirus is far more sinister, delegating the sanctity of life and the loss of life to become an acceptable norm in Israel while the economy takes first place. Justifying dead victims of the coronavirus and explaining away the normalcy of these deaths is reminiscent of a previous leftist government that propagated the equally sinister belittlement of dead Jews; known then as “victims of peace”.
Those of us here in Israel who went through the second intifada twenty years ago as the Oslo agreements fell apart, vividly remember the streets of Israel become killing fields with Palestinian suicide bombers blowing up packed buses at a rate of two a day. The leftist government led then by Yitzchak Rabin also had a dilemma concerning the thousands of Israeli’s that were murdered and wounded by Palestinian terrorists. How to explain and justify the Israeli lives lost to an ill-conceived and bogus peace agreement? The Palestinian Arab leadership at the time abrogated the Oslo Accords immediately after signing the agreement, leading to the second intifada, a Palestinian Arab terror campaign.
The media and the media influencers of that period devised a media campaign based on the notion of “victims of peace”. The thousands of Israeli’s killed and wounded by the Palestinian suicide bombers where not - according to this campaign - victims of terror, but “victims of peace”. This rebranding of unnecessary Jews deaths to be palatable and accepted by the Israeli public has been resurrected by the current Bennett-Lapid government to explain and justify the many unnecessary coronavirus deaths as a result of their negligence on a national scale.
I, like many others in Israel, have never had any real expectations from Israel’s current governing coalition. From its very inception, the Bennett-Lapid government has made a conscious and manipulative effort to project their daily failures in a positive light, with the media cooperating.
However, the far reaching consequences of their “let them eat cake” mindset and the dismissal of an eternal Jewish value such as the sanctity of life may very well have far reaching consequences for the fabric of trust between the people of Israel and their elected officials.
There are moments in the history of a nation in which governments lose their legitimacy in the eyes of the people. Are we approaching this critical junction? Hopefully and with God’s help, the ticking time bomb can be diffused. With Rosh Hashanah just around the corner, I would suggest that the cabinet members of the Bennett-Lapid government conduct a serious Chesbon Nefesh (soul searching) before it’s too late.