This Again

If it seems to you that 2020 is a real-life version of the movie Groundhog Day, where the same patterns repeat over and over again, you are not alone. For so many of us stuck at home, each day is the same. What started out as a nice break from the hectic rat race, a chance to catch up on books or TV shows, is now itself a dreary routine. We are desperate for a return to our old life with the promise of the vaccine.

The pandemic has also moved in waves as infections explode for a while in certain areas and then diminish as the disease spreads to new locations where COVID had previously been contained. It’s a constant game of whack-a-mole, and Israelis are now feeling this sense of déjà vu as they enter their third lockdown since April.

The country must surely feel like the characters in Groundhog Day, as they go back to the kinds of restrictions that we in the US have not experienced. While we called our experience in the spring a “lockdown”, we were never required by law to stay within 1 kilometer of our house like Israelis will be forced to do again for at least two weeks.

Israel is trying to tamp down a surge in COVID cases even as it attempts an ambitious plan to vaccinate everyone in the country in a matter of only a few months. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Saturday became the first Israeli to receive the vaccine and did so on live television. One benefit of being a small country with a little over 9 million people, is that it may be possible for it to indeed succeed in becoming the first vaccinated country in the world.

But while one hospital in Israel celebrated its first vaccines with a dance party, the country also had to deal with different type of Groundhog Day moment, another round of national elections in March 2021, the fourth in 2 years. The national unity government of Netanyahu and Benny Gantz collapsed when the Knesset failed to pass a budget and the coalition split.

I am no prognosticator, but I find it hard to believe that the political situation will change much after this 4th election. The parties may be different, some of the players changed, but Israel is clearly a divided country that mostly leans to the right. The major question will be the fate of Netanyahu. As Yossi Klein Halevi writes, the prime minister is at once the country’s “most talented leader and our most destructive politician”.

Even as he is under indictment, Netanyahu has brought historic normalization of relations with Arab countries and the possibility of full vaccination for the nation even as politics in the country have deteriorated into an almost ungovernable situation. Perhaps as Israel begins to reach a level of herd immunity it can also return to a more stable form of politics as well. After all, even Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day eventually found a way to break the endless routine.

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