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How Israel Screwed Up: Anatomy of Catastrophe

By Shlomo Maital

This is the story of how Israel, and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, totally screwed up how it handled the pandemic. This, after congratulating itself for being a “model for all nations”. It is based on an article in today’s daily Haaretz by Ido Efrati. It will take me only 695 words. And they are almost too painful to write. Because it is my country, and it is unbearable to see what our leaders have done to it.

   According to the Israeli government press office: as late as on May 7, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, today, participated in a conference of the leaders of the countries at the forefront of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, [whose leaders] sought to learn from the Israeli model for dealing with outbreak zones.”   Really??

   Ten costly mistakes that cost lives:

  1. Very few nurses have been assigned to do contact tracing. And they are not well coordinated. A new contact tracing center does not yet operate – it hasn’t yet received the necessary authority. It now takes 6 days or more to trace a patient’s contacts – it has to be 24-48 hours to stop an outbreak.
  2. PM Netanyahu decided to open all schools fully for all grades in mid-May. He scrapped the previous system of ‘capsules’, and small groups.   And days later, the new Health Minister Y. Edelstein scrapped the requirement that kids wear masks. Too hot, he said. So much for getting adults to wear masks. Schools spread the virus and soon hundreds had to close and quarantine teachers and kids.
  3. It has taken many months for the Health Ministry to increase daily tests to 25,000. Only on May 31 did the Health Minister say that asymptomatic people should be tested, too, if they came in contact with someone infected. Only on June 22 did Dr. Sadetzki (Health Ministry official) order officials to test those quarantined within 48 hours. Result: Many carriers spread the virus widely before they were identified.
  4. Until a week ago, the Health Ministry used a strategy of declaring ‘red zones’ (local hotspots). But because the virus is now so widespread, this failed utterly. And under pressure, the Ministry backed down.
  5. Israelis are exhausted, hungry and jobless. After the PM and other leaders made empty promises and false claims, they no longer believe what they are told. Police are trying to enforce mask-wearing, with little success. Moreover, both the President of Israel and the Prime Minister of Israel broke quarantine laws during Jewish religious holydays, inviting relatives against then-strict lockdown rules – and the Press reported it. This infuriated many Israelis and led to widespread defiance. Now, only about a quarter of those who should be in quarantine actually do so, according to the Health Ministry.
  6. Five months after the pandemic broke out in Israel, critical information is missing. What proportion of Israelis are asymptomatic, with virus? We don’t know. How long does it take to trace patients’ contacts? We don’t know.
  7. Israel has a well-staffed professional experience organization that can best deal with the pandemic. It is the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front command. It has almost infinite manpower, able to call up trained soldiers for reserve duty. Yet the Prime Minister stubbornly refuses to mobilize the Home Front Command. The reason is transparent. Home Front is under the Defense Ministry, and Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz is Defense Minister. What if, heaven forbid, the Home Front succeeded? Gantz would get the credit. No way. It will not happen. As with Trump, Bibi is only, and totally, about Bibi, and not Israel or its wellbeing.
  8. “Israel’s decision making, from the earliest stages of the crisis, has been influenced by only a handful of professionals. …Many professional associations are furious that they can’t even get a foot in the door to influence decision-making.”
  9. “The coronavirus crisis has laid bare years of neglect in the public health system, including its diagnostic laboratories.” The country’s 37 diagnostic labs have for months relied on student volunteers to help. There are too few doctors and too few hospital beds.
  10. And the previous Health Minister, appointed in July 2015, allowed the healthcare infrastructure to degrade – believe it or not, while most civilized nations appoint doctors or veteran healthcare managers to head the Health Ministry, Israel appointed an ultra-Orthodox Hassid who once came to a key pandemic press conference wearing his bear-fur hat in celebration of the Jewish festival Purim. During the pandemic, while in office, he persistently fought against lockdown restrictions on the ultra-Orthodox – and partly as a result, they have suffered disproportionately many cases and deaths.  


The Three Biggest Ideas in History – and The Biggest of All

By Shlomo  Maital   

 Big Idea

  I’m reading a big thick book,  Peter Watson’s book “Ideas: a history of thought and invention, from fire to Freud”, [Harper Perennial, 2006], over 800 pages, and 75 pages of close endnotes.

Let me try to summarize it for you,  though I recommend that you try to plough through it.

   Watson says that the three most influential ideas in history (only a very brave person would assert he could identify the three BIGGIES!) are:

  • The soul
  • The idea of Europe
  • The experiment.


  Now, Watson does not say this, but two of this big ideas have really not worked out too well.  The soul?  Well, this idea is a foundation of religion.  And religion has caused death, wars, suffering, persecution, and continues to do so (see ISIS, Hamas, and other fundamentalists), though for many (including me) religion does bring comfort and service to others. 

    Europe?  Well, European unity  has ended wars within Europe, especially between France and Germany.  But by placing monetary union ahead of political union, Europe put the cart before the horse, and horses are very poor at pushing carts, though good at pulling them.   There is a good chance England may opt out of Europe, and that will be a severe blow.

    But the experiment.  Now THERE is an idea.  How do you learn about the world? Well, you can pretend you know.  But as Goethe said,   thinking is better than knowing, but looking is best of all.   So, you learn about the world by trying experiments.  If you’r a scientist, you have a lab and you can do controlled experiments. If you’re a social scientist, you let the world be your lab and watch closely for natural experiments – places where unusual things happen – and learn from them.  If you’re an entrepreneur, by definition you are an experimentalist.  Your product is by definition an experiment.  The only way you will learn if it truly creates value, is by getting it out into the marketplace, and have people use it.

      So, Peter Watson,  you got one right out of three.  We all should become experimenters.  This is a mindset.  Don’t be afraid to try things.  Don’t be afraid to fail (most experiments fail).  See my previous blog.   And become an experimenter in your daily life as well. Try new foods, music, books, magazines, TV programs..welcome experiments, even though they may be uncomfortable.  (The old familiar stuff is comfortable, the new unfamiliar stuff is Uncomfortable).   Soon, you will become more comfortable with experiments.  And the mindset will spread to your work as entrepreneur and innovator.   


How Must Entrepreneurs Treat Failure?

A Practical Solution

By Shlomo  Maital   


  Last evening, I spoke to a group of Brazilian entrepreneurs, here in Sao Paulo, at an accelerator, Startup Farm, run very well by Alan Leite.  In the latest round, over 130 projects have been through Alan’s capable hands.  

   In my brief talk, I tried to practice what I preach, and listened carefully to precisely which messages I brought resonated.  The key one, by far?  About failure.  Entrepreneurship is less about success than about failure, how you perceive it, how you relate it, and how society relates to it.  There are cultures where failure is treated as a personal crime; those cultures will never ever have entrepreneurs.

    My wife Sharona, a psychologist, listened to my talk and gave me valuable feedback afterward. She reminded me of work by Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck, who has done pioneering work on ‘mindset’.   

  Here is a brief summary, in the context of startup failure.

   Mindset is a mental attitude that determines how you respond to situations. There are two types of mindsets. One is a fixed mindset, which assumes that intelligence is a fixed trait, and that all our qualities and capabilities are fixed, constant and constrained. The second is a growth mindset, which assumes that intelligence (and other capabilities) are qualities that change, grow and develop, especially when we work hard at it.  Why don’t we see unmotivated babies? Dweck asks. Because when babies learn to walk, stumbling is not failure, it is a vital step on the road to success…and because you have to learn to walk, you have to stumble and fall luntil you do.   Absolutely true of entrepreneurs, too.

   Entrepreneurs should have a growth mindset.  And they should use it to shape their perception of failure. 

     Failure can be regarded as personal:   I personally have failed. Or worse, I myself AM a failure.  My startup failed; I am a failure.

  1. Wrong. Wrong.

     Failure can be regarded as a learning experience; my startup failed, but I am a brave and courageous entrepreneur, because I attempted something very challenging, and did not succeed, but learned a great deal, and eventually I WILL succeed to change the world. 

      This is how entrepreneurs, and all of society around them, should, can and MUST interpret failure.  It is part of a growth mindset; failure is a step toward success.   Thomas Edison actually said that, when he tried 10,000 experiments to invent the filament of a light bulb, and each failure brought him closer to the final successful answer.

     Here is how Carol Dweck advises us to develop a growth mindset: 1.            Learn learn learn  2.   Realize hard work is key   3.  Face setbacks.     Focus on effort, struggle, persistence despite setbacks. Choose difficult tasks. Focus on strategies. Reflect on different strategies that work or don’t work. Focus on learning and improving. Seek challenges. Work hard.

    Thank you Professor Dweck!


Wawrinka and Samuel Beckett: On Failure

By Shlomo  Maital  

Beckett       Wawrinka

                                                               Samuel Beckett                                                             Stan Wawrinka


  There is  a very interesting connnection  between Swiss tennis star Stan Wawrinka, #3 in the world and winner of the Australian Open, and author and playwright Samuel Beckett, Irish-French, author of Waiting for Godot.     

   Wawrinka just won the Australian Open Grand Slam, unexpectedly defeating Rafael Nadal,  to whom he had repeatedly (at least 12 times in Grand Slam events) lost in the past.  His win was decisive, in four sets, and Wawrinka at times (according to the New York Times) bullied Nadal, something that Nadal usually does himself with fierce ground strokes and serves. 

    Wawrinka himself found it hard to believe; and it is rare that a number 8 ranked player wins over the Big Four (Murray, Federer, Djokovic, Nadal). 

    What is his secret?   According to Greg Bishop (Global New York Times, Jan. 28),  last March Wawrinka had the following words, written by Beckett, tattooed on his left forearm: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better!”  (from his play Westward Ho!, 1983).

   Before Sunday’s Australian Open final,  the Big Four players had won 34 of the 35 major titles.  That means, if you’re not one of the big four, you have a one in 35 chance to win, or less than three per cent.  But, if you try to fail better (that means, try your absolute best, facing huge odds, battle with everything you have, leave it all on the court, and walk off with dignity and pride even if you lose),  one day you will win.  Or, you will “fail to fail”, as Bishop puts it nicely, which means you will succeed. 

   Wawrinka offers us a big lesson in life.  And it was fun to see how he himself could hardly believe he had won. 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital