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Most Israelis distrust government over COVID cabinet secrets – study

CM 27/07/2021

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Some 60% of Israelis will have difficulty trusting the government if the protocols from the coronavirus cabinet remain classified for 30 years, according to a new study carried out by Haifa University researchers and published in June in the Journal of Risk Management and Healthcare Policy. 

The study was based on a questionnaire that was conducted between November 2020 to February 2021. The government was then led by interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The study was carried out by Professor Anat Gesser-Edelsburg, head of the Health Promotion Program and director of the Health and Risk Communication Research Center and doctoral student Rena Hijazi of Haifa University’s School of Public Health as well as Professor Mina Tzemach. 
The study’s objective was to map and analyze the discourse between experts who supported the government (dubbed “the coalition”) versus those who opposed the government (dubbed “the opposition”) surrounding issues that were the topic of scientific debate, and then to examine public viewpoints regarding the experts’ different positions. The researchers looked for a possible connection between the public’s trust in government and the choice of which experts it believed.
“Studies point to the major importance of transparency in achieving public trust, while lack of transparency is harmful to trust. Public trust in government institutions and leaders is considered essential in any country that seeks to impose its sovereignty on the people and maintain order,” the researchers wrote. “If citizens do not place trust in the authority of the government, the character of the country as well as its political, economic and social stability are liable to be harmed.”

Indeed, to the question “is it true or untrue that as long as the COVID-19 committee’s protocols are classified for 30 years it is difficult for me to trust the government?”, 59.7% answered “true,” indicating a deep distrust of the governed towards the government.Defense Minister Benny Gantz demanded recently to lift the classification and open up the protocols to the public.
Similarly, the study found that the majority of the population agreed with the ‘opposition’ experts when it came to lockdowns. 87% thought that children suffered when schools were closed, 64% thought that the lockdowns’ economic damage was worse than the virus itself, and 63% thought that the damage to the population’s mental health from the lockdowns and restrictions was greater than damage caused by the virus itself.
However, when it came to the vaccination campaign, which was widely seen as the previous government’s main success in combatting the virus, the majority of the population agreed with the ‘coalition’ experts’ approach. 
For example, 68% of the population believed that herd immunity could not be reached without the Pfizer vaccine: Some 72% believed that the vaccine will protect them from contracting the virus, and 85% believed that it was paramount to vaccinate people who are 65 or older and people in at-risk groups.
The study also found that almost half of the population thought that health experts who criticized government policies were jeopardizing their careers. 
“Research indicates that nations with a history of suppressing scientific controversies also will tend to suppress controversies regarding COVID-19 and will adopt less democratic methods, such as curfews and lockdown policies, to cope with the virus,” the researchers wrote. 
They added that “Israel constitutes a special test case of how a democratic nation is coping with the virus. When the pandemic broke out, Israel was in the midst of a profound constitutional crisis that affected how it managed the pandemic. Indeed, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, Israel was being governed by an interim prime minister operating under three criminal indictments, after three election cycles. The pandemic generated a multidimensional crisis in Israel that undermined economic and social resilience, challenged effective governance and even provided a cover for processes that had the potential to harm democratic values.” 
In a press release circulated by Haifa University on Tuesday, Prof. Gesser-Edelsburg concluded that “the scientific disagreements between experts can give policy makers tools to understand the complexity of the problem, and therefore there is importance in listening to all of the opinions, even those that are critical of the system’s official position.” 
“It is important to encourage disagreements in order to challenge mistaken ideas or dogmatic assumption,” Gesser-Edelsburg added. 
The researchers offered two concrete proposals: The first was the inclusion of behavioral science experts in committee debates, in order to advise them on constructive and inclusive methods of discussion that encourage independent thinking. The second was to grant experts from the ‘opposition’ sustained exposure and participation in health committees so that they would be able to express their opinions without fear of repercussions.   

Source: Jerusalem Post

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