אדיר ינקו
Adir Yanko
Photo: Avi Moalem
Prof. Ronni Gamzu

It's over, Prof. Gamzu, it's time to go home

Opinion: Two months into his tenure as Israel's top coronavirus health official, which began with high hopes, it seems like Ronni Gamzu turned from a promise to a burden, realizing he is not the sole boss in this crisis, but nothing more than a consultant

Adir Yanko |
Published: 09.29.20 , 09:09
The evening of July 28 was full of hope – after long weeks feeling like the battle against the pandemic had hit a dead end, the new coronavirus czar, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, gave an impressive and persuasive welcome speech.
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  • The news that the IDF was joining the effort to break the chain of contagion and talk of a "new contract" with the public inspired hope in a sea of despair.
    פרופסור רוני גמזופרופסור רוני גמזו
    Prof. Ronni Gamzu
    (Photo: AP)
    Two months went by and not much remains from that speech – whether he failed, or his efforts were sabotaged, there are moments when a person has to take responsibility, leave the keys and go home. For Gamzu, this moment is now.
    He wasn't the first candidate for the position, not even the fourth. He took the part after Prof. Gabi Barbash had a last-moment change of heart.
    There's an intrinsic difference between the two – Barbash believed in receiving authority and Gamzu in taking it on the go. In simpler words, Gamzu decided to go with the flow and believed everything would be fine because he will get the influence and backing he needed over time.
    It did look like it in the beginning when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear time and time again that he was giving the czar full support, but in the current political landscape, in which Netanyahu leans almost exclusively on the support of the ultra-Orthodox factions, Gamzu didn't stand a chance from day one.
    רוני גמזו בבית החולים זיו שבצפתרוני גמזו בבית החולים זיו שבצפת
    Prof. Gamzu (center) visits the coronavirus ward at Ziv Medical Center in Safed
    (Photo: Ido Erez)
    The first controversy revolved around the number of people allowed to pray in synagogues and the demand to match gatherings in houses of prayer to other closed spaces.
    The ultra-Orthodox considered this demand justified at first, but then came the first and most significant crisis surrounding the pilgrimage to Uman.
    Gamzu's unequivocal statements that there would be no flights to the Ukrainian town, and his surprising letter to Ukrainian authorities demanding a ban on the travel of Israelis, were replaced within two weeks by his silence and evasion of addressing the issue.
    It was only Gamzu's first lesson, but it sowed the first seeds in the fallout and mutual revulsion between him and Netanyahu that peaked after the premier completely shot down the czar's recommendation to refrain from tightening the lockdown.
    Gamzu, reportedly, told his associates afterward that he was "watching this nightmare with nausea."
    פרופ' רוני גמזו פותח את שנת הלימודים בעיריית רמלהפרופ' רוני גמזו פותח את שנת הלימודים בעיריית רמלה
    Prof. Ronni Gamzu (center, in blue) visits a Ramla school for the opening of the school year
    (Photo: Ramla municipality)
    It seems like Gamzu turned from a promise to a burden in a short time.
    The fact that the numbers of confirmed cases continued to soar and he became a scapegoat for the ultra-Orthodox only amplified the feeling he was nothing but a burden.
    Repeated attempts by ultra-Orthodox ministers Aryeh Deri and Yaakov Litzman to torpedo the "traffic light model", which was his main plan of action, made it clear to him that he was far from being the sole boss.
    His unusual comments on the tightening of restrictions contrary to his position made it clear that he too had already figured out his place: a consultant, and nothing more.
    Caricature published in an ultra-Orthodox newspaper against coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu's 'traffic light outline' which some deemed to target ultra-Orthodox communities in particular Caricature published in an ultra-Orthodox newspaper against coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu's 'traffic light outline' which some deemed to target ultra-Orthodox communities in particular
    Caricature published in an ultra-Orthodox newspaper against coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu's 'traffic light outline' which some deemed to target ultra-Orthodox communities in particular
    (Caricature: Aharon Ze'ev Berenstein)
    To a large extent, he brought this upon himself. The fact he failed to create dialogue or cooperation with the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors - the two groups with the highest infection rates - while continuing to preach to them daily in the media, came back quickly to bite him.
    And this wasn't his only mistake – as part of the Gamzu crisis management method, he first announced his intentions and only then began to act.
    Those who know him, know that his public image is extremely important to him and he relishes on the limelight, but he should have managed this hobby of his differently. There was no modesty or humility in his demeanor which only created particularly high expectations of him, making his failure equally striking.
    Prof. Ronni Gamzu is a top professional who has left, albeit temporarily, his kingdom and area of comfort – Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital which he runs.
    רוני גמזורוני גמזו
    Prof. Gamzu presenting the 'traffic light model' coronavirus response plan
    (Photo: GPO)
    Even if he seems to enjoy being in the public eye and even if he considered the part to be a springboard into politics, his decision to take the reins also had a great deal of altruism and genuine desire to bring change.
    But all of this doesn't matter now. Gamzu declared he will not resign and will only return to Ichilov on November 1, as he promised. However, the past few days proved there is no point in him keeping to cling to his position even for one more day.
    He has no influence on decision making, and the accusations he and Netanyahu level at one another make it clear he won't have any in the future either.
    Conceding failure won't hurt his image. In the current situation, it could even gain him some points in the eyes of the public.
    There is no point in him remaining in office because this crisis doesn't need an adviser, it needs a manager. And also a miracle.

    Adir Yanko is Ynet's health correspondent
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