Corona Czar Professor Ronni Gamzu criticized the decision to allow 16,000 yeshiva students from the United States to enter Israel ahead of the high holidays.
“We need to do something wise here to prevent another fire,” Gamzu said in an interview with News 12 on Saturday night. “It’s a decision that was made before I took office. I’m not yet completely certain what additional instructions we need to issue.”
Last Monday, Channel 13’s Nadav Eyal reported that the Israeli government decided to allow the entry of about 20,000 yeshiva and seminary students who are not Israeli citizens, and who would stay in preferential isolation conditions after their arrival. The government would pay for coronavirus tests for all of them, and they would not be required to be tested before boarding the planes (Report: Israel to Permit Entry of Some 20,000 US, UK Yeshiva Students, Pay for Corona Tests).
In early July, The Jewish Press Online reported that Masa Israel Journey, a public-service organization founded by the Prime Minister’s Office of the Government of Israel, together with The Jewish Agency for Israel, due to coronavirus-related budget cuts, was raising the age of eligibility to 22 for students from North America and the United Kingdom, effectively eliminating all funding for high school graduates planning to spend a year, two years or even three years studying in Israel (Elimination Of Masa Funding And Limited Student Visas Jeopardize Israel Study Plans For Countless Yeshiva And Seminary Hopefuls).
The following day, we reported that the global Torah community moved quickly, with the World Mizrachi Movement leading the charge, leveraging its relationships within the Jewish Agency to advocate for the funding to be restored. In response to the pressure, Masa agreed to restore 75% of the funding it would have normally allocated for students attending religious schools, with yeshivas and seminaries agreeing to pay the remaining amount (Orthodox Advocacy Leads To Masa Restoring Funding To Yeshivas And Seminaries).
Corona Czar Gamzu addressed his goal of increasing the lost trust between the public and the Health Ministry. “Everything will fall into place in the coming week,” he said. “There will be a reevaluation of the restrictions, and this time the debate will be conducted in round table, where everyone will be included. We will hear everyone. We will be organized, with the professional consent of the ministries’ CEOs and then we will arrange everything.”
“All the government ministers understand that I am the answer to this complex dilemma of society, the economy and medicine. And the truth is that I feel fully backed and have extraordinary influence with the full backing of the prime minister.”
For the time being, at least. Gamzu has already stepped on the toes of his equal, Health Ministry Director General Prof. Hezi Levi. The Czar’s take-charge attitude could eventually rub the prime minister the wrong way, too.
Professor Gamzu said that as soon as Netanyahu approached him, he agreed to take on the complex role: “As soon as the prime minister said that there was no other solution and that Professor Barbash’s candidacy was not being supported, I said – I will lead.”
Two weeks ago, the PM’s office leaked that Professor Gabi Barbash was going to be appointed the new Coronavirus Czar. According to the leak, Barbash, who serves as a full professor of medical administration and Epidemiology at the Tel Aviv University School of Medicine—could he be more perfect for the job?—received the offer from the Prime Minister’s office to serve in the new post, and the parties were working on crossing the t’s and dotting the I’s of the agreement.
Well, that one didn’t take root.
“I really want to take the citizens of the State of Israel forward,” Prof. Gamzu told News 12. “Yes, there were mistakes, and yes, there were restrictions that I did not think made sense, and that distanced the public. Anyone who saw that one sector is kept open and another is closed, would say, it makes no sense to me. Especially those who lost their livelihood.”
According to Gamzu, Israelis may be able to fly abroad again as early as next month. “I think during August the sky will open,” he said. “Our goal is to return as quickly as possible to as many green countries as possible, because we are pretty red compared to the other greens. It is definitely a realistic goal.”
We’ll let you know in September if the trust thing took off.
“I was given a lot of responsibility,” Gamzu concluded. “Really, a lot of responsibility, it’s not easy and I feel it on my shoulders – I serve the citizens of the State of Israel. I have confidence in my way. I’m not sure I will succeed, but I really think we are all together, all the citizens of the State of Israel, if we know how to join hands we will succeed.”