Prof. Nahman Ash began training as the government’s coronavirus king on Tuesday, a role that does not even have a 100-second grace period. Eight months after the pandemic, with most of the economy still closed and children stuck at home, the public lacks the patience and desire to give it a chance. The prevailing feeling is cynicism, without believing that anything can be changed for the better.
It is enough to learn from the experience of his predecessor prof. Roni Gamzu, who took on his role with a lot of hope and a very important statement about the need to sign a new agreement between the public and its leaders. Within hours of receiving the baptism of fire, he had to swallow the decision to allow 17,000 Yeshiva students to enter from abroad under special conditions. This was followed by a pilgrimage to Uman, starting the school year in cities with high infection rates and more. Shortly after receiving his warm welcome, members of the government and associates of the prime minister began giving briefings opposing his positions behind the scenes, and sometimes in open-air media interviews. There was no grace here, not even a hint.
And yet, Ash and Gamzu took on the role of coronavirus king under very different circumstances. Gamzu preached the gospel of “no locks”, later realizing that he had no choice but to impose himself, while Ash, who does not give many interviews or expresses himself on social media, apparently believes in reducing the rate of infection through restrictions and closure, on based on the few he said. Gamzu entered an undefined role that did not exist and built it from scratch, while Ash enters shoes that were already filled, even if he made some changes.
Ash is a quiet and relatively introverted person. People say he has almost no ego, but emphasize that he is not a fool. Without being politically savvy, it would have been difficult to achieve the roles he played – chief medical officer of the Israeli Defense Forces and head of health services at Maccabi Health Services. In order to achieve the goal of controlling the epidemic without a third lock or health disaster, he faces enormous challenges. He should determine his status as a professional and leader in the health system to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. He must overcome his unwillingness to face the media and talk to the public. Ash should build a sense of trust and build bridges with the various communities that make up Israeli society, without making dangerous concessions or turning a blind eye to injuries and without compromising trust and relationships.
Ash will obviously have to maneuver in the waters of shark-infested politics. This is a particularly challenging task given the fact that Ash, unlike Moshe Bar Siman Tov (former director general of the Ministry of Health) and Gamzu, has no previous experience with government work. This makes him less threatening to politicians, compared to the last two.
Ash brings with it two great advantages. The first is his intimate knowledge of the military and its organizational culture; In light of the central role that the military plays in dealing with the crisis, and the often expressed inter-agency mistrust, this is a major benefit. His second advantage is his deep acquaintance with health care organizations, which play a major role in tackling the epidemic but whose voices are difficult for decision-makers to hear.
Lessons from Gamzu
Gamzu returns to Soraski Medical Center in Tel Aviv after three tumultuous months as king of coronaviruses. One can say many things about him: He failed to prevent a lockout, sometimes failed to convince decision-makers of his professional opinions, and quarreled with politicians and community leaders in the Haredi community. But there is no denying that he has unconditionally taken on the most complex role in the country. He did not bother even as he was dragged through the mud or his suggestions were rejected. He went out on the battlefield and did not run the system across the screen.
Gamzu has also built several important systems that we hope will remain in place after its disappearance, such as the Barometer Committee that monitors the health care system and the expert advisory cabinet. He also created the “traffic light” plan, which may not have been able to block the spread of the epidemic, but will serve as an important basis for returning to a routine after reducing the rate of infection.
The lesson from Gamzu’s term must be studied well: the king of the coronavirus is not a wizard; it is not a one-man show that can replace a badly functioning government. After all, he can do only the best he can within his sphere of responsibility, and that is to be a professional who presents his professional opinion, paying attention to its implementation on the ground.