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Israel’s Coronavirus Crisis Lets Netanyahu Seize the Initiative


But the virus has showcased Mr. Netanyahu’s leadership skills as he moved pre-emptively and decisively to stem its spread, largely sequestering the country by ordering all arrivals from abroad to self-quarantine, brainstorming with foreign leaders by phone and videoconference and pledging subsidies to stabilize the economy.

“For Netanyahu it’s crisis as usual,” said Mitchell Barak, a Jerusalem-based political consultant and pollster. “People can say he’s doing too much, but nobody is going to say he’s not doing enough. He’s definitely earning political capital.”

Critics have accused Mr. Netanyahu of exploiting the situation for political advantage.

“Benjamin Netanyahu is squeezing every ounce of political and propaganda benefit out of the coronavirus at a time of uncertainty and anxiety about the future,” Yossi Verter, a political columnist, wrote in Friday’s Haaretz, a left-wing newspaper. “This is his big moment.”

He added, “His current no-holds-barred effort not just to manage the crisis but to handle its PR is a clear indication of his intention to tap the situation for his personal interests.”

After celebrating too early the outcome of the March 2 election, Mr. Netanyahu’s right wing and religious bloc of parties fell short, for the third time in the past 12 months, of winning enough electoral support to form a majority government.

Mr. Gantz was hoping to be able to cobble together a minority government with the outside support of Arab parties. Those hopes have been floundering, but Mr. Gantz is still making efforts to secure enough recommendations to get first crack at building a coalition.

For a while, Mr. Netanyahu had appeared almost down and out. Now, amid the coronavirus outbreak, he is in his element, issuing detailed health directives, even pulling a crumpled tissue out of his pocket to demonstrate good practices, while casting his opponents’ maneuvering after this month’s election as petty, partisan politics. His tough containment policies have so far earned him credit for proving prescient.

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