In the past decade, the world has experienced a surge in right-wing populism, a political ideology that eschews science, expertise, public institutions, facts, and evidence in favor of bumper sticker slogans and nationalist mythology, but one that has been eviscerated by reality in the form of a global pandemic.
It’s not for nothing the world’s worst affected COVID-19 countries are led by right-wing populist leaders and governments, including Donald Trump’s United States, Boris Johnson’s United Kingdom, Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Trump has downplayed and denied the effects of the virus, initially calling it a “hoax,” and constantly providing the public with dangerous disinformation. Similarly, Johnson dismissed COVID-19 as an exaggerated threat, and boasted it wouldn’t stop him shaking hands with strangers. Bolsonaro likened it to a “little flu,” and Putin promised the virus wouldn’t affect Russians.
Together, these nations represent nearly two-thirds of all COVID-19 related deaths. Their respective economies are in tatters. Both Johnson and Bolsonaro have contracted the virus.
Now joining this insalubrious club is Israel, with the Middle Eastern country recording record-high numbers of 1,300 daily infections after having successfully flattened the curve in the early stages of the pandemic. As of July 10, there were more than 16,000 active cases among a total population of 9 million people, according to the Health Ministry.
Israel is now recording an equal number of new cases per million population as the US, which has the highest rate of infection in the world.
Israel is now recording an equal number of new cases per million population as the US, which has the highest rate of infection in the world, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Huge crowds took to Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on July 12 to protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis, specifically in the way his government has lost control of the virus by reopening the economy too early and failing to deliver promised aid packages as the unemployment rate spikes upwards.
Last week, Israel’s chief epidemiologist and top public health official, Siegal Sadetzki, resigned, claiming leaders ignored her warnings and reopened the country too quickly — resulting in a new surge of coronavirus cases.
“Unfortunately, for the last few weeks, the compass handling the pandemic lost its direction,” Sadetzki wrote. “We’ve watched with frustration as the hourglass of possibilities has run out. On this basis I reached the conclusion that under the new conditions in which my professional opinion is not accepted — I can no longer assist with an effective response to curb the spread of the virus.”
She lambasted Netanyahu for declaring victory over the virus in May and encouraging Israelis to go out and “enjoy yourselves,” and she specifically blamed the reopening of schools in May and wedding venues in June for reigniting the current and second wave of infections.
Sadetzki, the spearhead of Israel’s pandemic response, had been sidelined by Netanyahu, the same way the US’ top epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has been shunt to the background by Trump.
Essentially, Sadetzki, the spearhead of Israel’s pandemic response, had been sidelined by Netanyahu, the same way the United States’ top epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has been shunt to the background by Trump.
Israel has now recorded well over 1,000 daily new cases for three out of the past five days, as of July 12 (on July 8, according to the Jerusalem Post, some 1,322 people tested positive), an alarming rate of infection given lockdown and social distancing measures had reduced the rate to near single digits in mid-May.
The self-proclaimed Jewish State is now grappling with a self-produced pandemic nightmare because its leaders shunned science and public health expertise in favor of ultranationalist boasts of having conquered the virus via notions pertaining to Israeli exceptionalism and greatness.
Needless to say, the Palestinian people are paying a disproportionate price for Israel’s negligence, with lifesaving ventilators now at maximum capacity within the Palestinian Territories.
Israel’s two decades long drift towards the kind of far-right fascism that European Jews fled from in the middle of the previous century has made it the envy of right-wing populists around the world.
“Israel is a country dominated by the right…[which] helps to explain why Israel has in recent years begun to align itself with various right-wing populist governments around the world — and why those governments express affection and support for the Jewish state,” observes Damon Linker in The Week. “Israel has turned itself into a model for the global right.”
In a devastating rebuttal of right-wing populism, specifically in the way the anti-science, post-truth ideology has produced catastrophic government failure in Israel, the US, Brazil, Russia, and the UK, German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered a blistering speech at the European Parliament on Friday, July 10.
“As we are experiencing firsthand, you cannot fight the pandemic with lies and disinformation, any more than you can fight it with hate or incitement to hatred.”
“As we are experiencing firsthand, you cannot fight the pandemic with lies and disinformation, any more than you can fight it with hate or incitement to hatred. The limits of populism and denial of basic truth are being laid bare. Democracies need truth and transparency. This is what sets Europe apart and this is what Germany will stand up for during its EU presidency,” said Merkel.
While right-wing populist leaders can get away with distorting the truth and manufacturing false realties regarding immigration, climate change, economics, security threats, and crime, it’s far harder to convince the public that what they see with their own eyes isn’t true, and what they see is unemployment, sickness, and death. The respective polling numbers for Netanyahu, Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro, and Putin languish near or at record lows.
Ultimately, each of these countries will survive the COVID-19 pandemic, but the same cannot be said for their respective right-wing populist governments. Lies and falsehoods may have gotten their leaders this far, but truth and reality has hit them square in the face, and with catastrophic outcomes for their citizens.