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Efraim Halevy , Former Director of the Mossad at a CFHU webinar gives overview of COVID-19’s impact on Israel’s homefront and on its relationship with its neighbours

by Rhonda Spivak, May 13, 2020

Efraim Halevy, former Director of the Mossad, gave a perceptive overview of COVID-19’s impact on Israel’s domestic reality and on its relationship with its Middle East neighbours and other countries further afield at a webinar put on by Canadian Friends of Hebrew University on May 10.


Halevy  was introduced by Murray Palay, the former national chair of  Canadian Friends of Hebrew University. Palay noted that Halevy is also the former head of Israel’s National Security Council, and a former head of  Hebrew University’s Shasha Center for Strategic Studies at the Federmann School of Public Policy and Government.


Halevy's presentation began with the home front, with Halevy noting that he didn’t want to guess the longevity of the newly formed government, which had "a difficult birth." He emphasized that the government is the largest in Israel’s history, consisting of more than 30 ministers and 15 or 16 deputy ministers.


“As we know,” Mr. Halevy said, “prophecy is given to fools and I generally don’t like to be a fool, unless it’s absolutely necessary. So I don’t want to predict what’s going to happen with the new government.”


Halevy pointed out that almost 20% of the country’s doctors and other medical personnel are made up of minorities, primarily Israeli Arabs, who are "people who are prominent in all hospitals." According to Halevy, The COVID-19 crisis has made Jewish Israelis much more aware of this reality including the fact that Arabs are also becoming more integrated into other aspects of Israeli society. Israelis, he said, will have to recognize things will not to return to the way they were, neither for the Jewish majority nor the Arab minority. "We[Jewish Israelis] will have to find way and means of extending our hands to them[the Arab minority in Israel]," he said.


The other community most impacted by COVID-19 is the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) minority, which, as Halevy noted, suffered the highest proportion of coronavirus cases and in the process had significant contact with the country’s non-Haredi majority. One result of this contact is a major increase in the use among younger Haredi Israelis of cell phones and the internet. In the future Mr. Halevy said,  the Jewish majority will have to find a way to have better relations with the Haredi community. "We should extend our hands to them," Halvey stated.


According to Mr. Halevy,  other major issues Israel now has to wrestle with are the financial crisis and extreme economic suffering as a result of  the coronavirus, which has left over one million Israelis unemployed, with many faltering businesses. 


Halevy pointed out that one rather surprising result of the corona health crisis is how it has led to cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and  even with Hamas in Gaza, to help control the spread of the virus. Halevy noted that in light of the pandemic there has been cooperation between Jews and Arabs especially in Jerusalem, where "there have been meetings between people and joint-efforts the likes of which we have never seen before." Regarding Gaza, Halevy said "We [Israelis] have trained Hamas people, bringing some of them inside of Israel...bringing them for instance to Sheba Hospital [in Tel-Aviv] for training" regarding how to deal with the coronavirus. 


Later in his talk in answer to a question, Halevy noted that he does not believe that unilateral annexation of all of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank is "a wise thing to do." In regard to negotiations with the Palestinians, Halevy said that Israel will have to make concessions. He pointed out that Israel is stronger than the Palestinians and "the winner has to extend its hand to the loser." 


Turning to the region, HaLevy pointed out that  Iran has been  the worst hit by COVID-19, saying that fatalities from the coronavirus are far worse than the already high numbers published by the Iranian government. He also emphasized that the Israeli air force has been very active in recent weeks and Iran has suffered losses in their military positions in Syria and Lebanon."We've hit major chemical and biological centres in Syria," Halevy emphasized, adding that the damage "will take them a long time to repair," if it can be repaired at all.


Halevy spoke about COVID-19’s major consequences on the United States, both in terms of the extremely high number of deaths and the major economic recession, which will have a lasting impact on the country. He suggested that in the future the US may not be able to continue the same level of military aid to Israel.


The pandemic will also leave a lasting mark on Russia, which according to Halevy, is in the midst of suffering from "a dangerous spike" in coronavirus-related cases which he said Moscow is  publicly downplaying. The numbers the Russians are giving out are not accurate, Halvey said. Regarding China, Halevy noted that China is being blamed for its role in the origin of the crisis and its lack of transparency in dealing with it. "I think China did act wrongly certainly in the initial stages," Halevy stated.


During the question period, Halevy was asked about what will be the degree of global cooperation in the new reality created by the current health crisis. Halevy maintained that "the idea of the global village in the economy can't simply be thrown to the wind. Ultimately people will see to it that international cooperation will be resumed." Halevy added, "But it will take time."


Halevy also said during the question period that Israel's relations with the Arab world as a result of the pandemic "will be closer." Even before the pandemic, there has been an improvement in relations with the  Persian Gulf countries as well as in relations with Saudia Arabia. 


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.