On the same day that the most viewed video in China was of Jews holding a mass prayer for the wellbeing of the Chinese people at the Western Wall, one rabbi single-handedly made a decision that will wreak nothing but financial and diplomatic ruin that will take years to repair.
Under ultra-Orthodox party leader Yaakov Litzman, the Health Ministry made a decision more ominous than the actual threat of coronavirus.
The decision by the ministry to isolate anyone arriving back in Israel from Hong Kong, Thailand, Macau and Singapore is not only without precedent anywhere in the world, it is also inexplicable.
This decision has serious implications and should have been taken, if this was a normal country, only after consideration by all relevant ministries including defense, foreign affairs, transportation, economy, tourism, and agriculture, because of the far-reaching effects it may have not only the 5,000 Litzman estimates may be infected, but on tens of thousands of others.
What prompted the health minister to decide on such drastic steps after dragging his feet for weeks?
Litzman smelled panic on the streets and panic in the media and instead of calming fears he ran with them and has now delivered disproportionate punishment to many people.
There were no more than 35 cases of coronavirus in Thailand out of a population of 69 million citizens and 35 million tourists. Nearly half of those infected are already cured and are back to their lives and routines.
Most of the people who were sick were elderly Chinese who had arrived from the infected Hubei province.
Voluntary quarantine – as the Health Ministry now demands – is nothing but a cynical joke: People arriving from China boarded the train from the airport in plain sight of all the other passengers.
The ministry is hoping to set up a hotline for informants to report on their neighbors who are not complying with the directives. No other country has adopted this totalitarian like method. No other country has shown such amateurism in the most senior ranks of government.
In the United States, Britain and Egypt, if there is a risk of contamination, and people must be quarantined, they are taken into quarantine - whether they like it or not.
"We will compensate for lost days of work," announced the ministry, but not for the first time. Similar promises were made to people living in the south who were instructed to remain home during bouts of attacks from Gaza. They too were promised compensation for lost work. Since there is no decision as to where this compensation is to come from, the likelihood that it will ever happen is small at best.
Litzman is known for pandering to public opinion, especially among the secular public as I myself can attest. I reported on his press conference at Ben-Gurion Airport almost two weeks ago when he announced steps to monitor people returning from China.
The minister spoke of "preparedness" and "steps taken" but as soon as the press conference ended and the cameras were turned off, the airport returned to normal and nothing had changed. No new measures implemented, and no steps taken.
Only after a request was made for reaction to my reporting that nothing had been done, did the vague promises to monitor people returning from China, become directives and the far-reaching new regulations were announced.