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The School of International Regional Studies is a research and educational centre seeking to revive international regional studies as an academic discipline in Russia. The department’s world-class professors train the next generation of regional studies specialists while developing an increasingly prestigious research school.
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The organiser and moderator of the meeting was ProfessorVera Vishnyakova, Head of the HSE School of International Regional Studies of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs.Sergey A. Karaganov, dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs of HSE University was also present at the meeting.
Professor Svetlova began the lecture with a brief description of quarantine in Israel, the stages of its conduct, as well as its political and religious context. In Israel, the restrictive measures taken in connection with the spread of COVID-19 are already being removed: cafes and restaurants are gradually opening, in the near future it is planned to return the operation of public transport by 75 percent, while the number of cases, which everyone followed with close attention, have sharply decreased.
The expert noted that it is worth starting with a retrospective of the spread of the disease. Despite the considerable distance from each other, China and Israel are important trading partners, the countries have many joint projects (China is building two ports in Israel), and China is very interested in Israeli technological innovations. However, the first infected people arrived in Israel at the end of February not from China, but from Europe, in particular from Italy and Austria. In this regard, strict measures were introduced: at first all flights to Southeast Asia were limited, while flights to Italy were banned completely, which became a precedent on the world stage, as Israel became the first country to ban flights to Italy. This caused a political scandal in the context of Israel’s foreign relations with other countries. Meanwhile, the expert noted that air traffic with the United States did not stop during the entire quarantine, which clearly characterizes the relations between the two countries.In the first weeks of pandemic, those who returned from other countries were to remain in quarantine for two weeks at home, but many residents violated the self-isolation regime, which caused an increase in the number of infected people. In this regard, the government decided to put all arriving from abroad into specially converted for these purpose hotels.
The invited expert also mentioned the cultural and religious heterogeneity of Israel. Although Israel is a secular state, it is home to both Muslim and Orthodox Jewish communities. The state’s decision to temporarily ban visits to synagogues and yeshivas was accepted quite calmly by religious communities, many rabbis urged people to stay at home, referring to one of the most important commandments of Judaism – the salvation of the soul. But there were those who did not take quarantine seriously enough, in connection with which the Israeli army was forced to patrol the streets and not let people into synagogues. This revealed differences in the response mechanisms of cultural and religious autonomies within the country during the crisis and their inconsistency with the state. Another challenge was that the number of cases in religious communities significantly prevailed over those of more secular areas, which forced the state to introduce more stringent measures in certain territories. The strictest quarantine was introduced there at the end of March: people were forbidden to leave their homes, and even food was delivered by army. The expert notes that the quarantine period fell on a large number of religious holidays for both Muslims and Jews.
Professor Svetlova also outlined the political aspects of the coronavirus, paying particular attention to criticism of the current Prime Minister Netanyahu. Even before the pandemic began, Israel faced a serious political crisis; on March 2, the country held the third consecutive parliamentary election. The Israeli Minister of Health, Yaakov Litzman, refers to a very orthodox party in Israel and has long been dismissive of the fears of the COVID-19. However, Benjamin Netanyahu, who himself headed the Ministry of Health in the past, reacted very sensitively to the issue of public health and, in spite of the Minister of Health, introduced rather strict preventive measures, which allowed Israel to pass the peak of COVID-19 infection with relatively small losses in a fairly short time: at present In Israel, 250 people died from coronavirus (44 people for every million people). Most residents supported Netanyahu’s policies and complied with all the requirements.
The expert also noted that though the state had promised payments to the population, for many the crisis became a bigger problem than the COVID-19, small and medium-sized businesses were hit the hardest.
At this stage, the main problem is the potential second wave of COVID-19. Many speculate that Benjamin Netanyahu will be able to use it in his political course, especially with regard to the annexation of the West Bank. In this regard, the close relationship with the White House is also perceived negatively. The expert also noted that the policy for overcoming the crisis was not sufficiently coordinated, but expressed hope that the pandemic would become an impetus for the development of a clear crisis response strategy by the state.
In the end, Ksenia Svetlova noted that despite certain problems and challenges, Israel adequately coped with the crisis and expressed hope that other countries will be able to use this experience to develop their own practical recommendations for the people.Video is available to the link: https://youtu.be/GefWz8Wuj6o