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When Politics Meets Pandemic: How Prime Minister Netanyahu and a Small Team Communicated Health and Risk Information to the Israeli Public During the Early Stages of COVID-19

Authors Gesser-Edelsburg A, Hijazi R

Received 9 September 2020

Accepted for publication 3 December 2020

Published 14 December 2020 Volume 2020:13 Pages 2985—3002


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Professor Marco Carotenuto

Anat Gesser-Edelsburg, Rana Hijazi

School of Public Health and the Health and Risk Communication Research Center, University of Haifa, Haifa 3498838, Israel

Correspondence: Anat Gesser-Edelsburg
School of Public Health and the Health and Risk Communication Research Center, University of Haifa, 199 Aba Khoushy Ave., Mount Carmel, Haifa 3498838, Israel
Tel +972 544 243530
Fax +973 3 6322143
Email [email protected]

Background: The coronavirus brought the world’s leaders to the center of the media stage, where they not only managed the COVID-19 pandemic but also communicated it to the public. The means they used to communicate the global pandemic reveal their strategies and the narratives they chose to create in their nation’s social consciousness. In Israel, the crisis broke out after three election cycles, such that the government in charge of the crisis was an interim government under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was operating under three criminal indictments. This study sought to examine the ways in which Prime Minister Netanyahu and two senior Israel Ministry of Health officials—Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov and Prof. Sigal Sadetsky, Head of Public Health Services—communicated information about the health crisis in Israel during what has been termed the first wave and the beginning of the second wave.
Methods and Sample: The research adopted qualitative methods (discourse, content and thematic analysis) to analyze the communication strategies and compare them to health and risk communication. Triangulated data collection from different data sources was used to increase the credibility and validity of the results. The research sample comprised the following sources from March 3 through June 21, 2020: transcripts of 19 press conferences and 12 press interviews, 95 emergency regulations signed by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and 52 articles in major Israeli newspapers.
Results: Netanyahu and the Health Ministry Director General used an apocalyptic narrative to communicate COVID-19 to the public. The main strategies used in constructing this narrative were intimidation, lack of information transparency, giving the public conflicting instructions contrary to the health and risk communicating approach, and using a health crisis to promote political intentions and actions.
Conclusion: Communicating health crises to the public, particularly ongoing crises like COVID-19, requires that leaders implement the health and risk communication approach and create a cooperative narrative that does not rely on a strategy of intimidation, but rather on empathy and on fact-based and transparent information.

Keywords: COVID-19, health and risk communication, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israeli public, qualitative research

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