All hail the (virus) czar: What the press is talking about on July 29
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Israel media review

All hail the (virus) czar: What the press is talking about on July 29

Ronni Gamzu gets glowing reviews for the presentation of his plan to fight the virus… until pundits notice it’s nearly identical to Naftali Bennett’s proposal months ago

Israel's newly appointed coronavirus czar, Ronni Gamzu, unveils his plan to fight the pandemic, at a press conference on July 28, 2020 (screenshot)
Israel's newly appointed coronavirus czar, Ronni Gamzu, unveils his plan to fight the pandemic, at a press conference on July 28, 2020 (screenshot)

1. May God keep the (virus) czar… close to us: Prof. Ronni Gamzu, the former Health Ministry director general who has been appointed point man for the government’s virus response, gets high marks from the press after he unveils his plan to combat the virus in a press conference.

  • “Finally, there’s a manager,” reads the headline of a front-page column in Yedioth Ahronoth, referring to previous criticism of the government for its months-long failure to appoint an official to coordinate the virus response.
  • Health correspondent Sarit Rosenblum gushes that Gamzu’s plan heralds “a new era.”
  • “Not only did the prime minister and the other ministers involved quickly depart from the stage — a highly rare occurrence — but for the first time since the start of the pandemic, the main speaker spoke directly to the public, without mediation, without hiding behind the podium and the microphone, without reading from a teleprompter. Looking at us, straight in the eyes, and speaking thoughtfully — and primarily from the heart — Prof. Gamzu managed to get the message across in a more believable and convincing manner than his predecessors.”
  • The key difference, writes Rosenblum, is the lack of “doomsday scenarios, threats, reprimands and fear-mongering” that characterized the previous warnings by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar-Siman Tov.
  • Writes Ben Caspit in Maariv: “The good news is that Gamzu is the right man in the right place — but long after the right time. His presentation yesterday was convincing, compelling and professional. When he spoke, Benjamin Netanyahu seethed in his chair, as if he had stumbled onto a crowd of confirmed [coronavirus] patients who were spitting their germs in his direction. It’s no wonder he brought Benny Gantz and Yuli Edelstein and emphasized the word ‘together’ — obviously together. When he still believed he could triumph over the coronavirus, he did everything to manage it alone. When picking up the pieces of this resounding failure and trying to chart a new path, then we’re all with him together.”
  • In Israel Hayom, Ran Reznik says Gamzu spoke “sharply, believably and convincingly” about his plan. But the proposal, he continues, fails to address how the government will stop the virus from spreading in nursing homes and other long-term health facilities. Gamzu has also refrained from commenting on or condemning the “corona-deniers,” he continues, including senior doctors who have taken to Israeli media to claim the virus that has killed hundreds of thousands worldwide is no worse than the flu.
  • All three major national dailies lead with Gamzu’s plan and his promise to put an end to “illogical” government restrictions.
  • Doctors are also pleased with Gamzu, with epidemiologist Nadav Davidovitch, a leader of Israel’s doctors union and a recent critic of state policy, telling The Times of Israel’s Nathan Jeffay: “I think it was an amazing speech.  “His idea of creating a new contract between government and public is exactly what is needed now.”

2. But is it new? Pundits also point out, however, that the plan advocated by Gamzu, which will see the army take over contact tracing, have testing ramped up considerably, and impose fewer public restrictions, is hardly original.

  • “What Prof. Gamzu is saying now is precisely what [Yamina leader Naftali] Bennett suggested three months ago,” tweets Kan reporter Roy Sharon.
  • “So basically Gamzu is Bennett, only Netanyahu doesn’t hate him,” adds radio host Yotam Zimri in a tweet.
  • Caspit, in his Maariv column, also credits the opposition’s Bennett with proposing nearly the identical policies laid out by Gamzu, only to be ignored by Netanyahu.
  • Bennett, on Twitter, points this out. “All of this didn’t happen four months ago, unfortunately, probably because Benjamin Netanyahu feared ‘Naftali Bennett would be too successful in stemming the coronavirus.’ There are no words to describe the severity of this failure. This is a failure of leadership on the level of the Yom Kippur [War in 1973].”

3. What will Hezbollah do next? IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi tells senior officers the army is girding for another border attack by the Hezbollah terror group in the coming days, after an attempted breach was foiled by the IDF earlier this week, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reports.

  • “We are preparing for Hezbollah’s response and we will do everything to avoid war, but we won’t let Hezbollah feel that we’re deterred,” he is quoted as saying.
  • The paper also asserts that Kohavi confirmed the IDF intentionally didn’t kill the Hezbollah fighters in Monday’s attack to avoid a broader flare-up.
  • The fighters are believed to have approached the border fence to lay a bomb or carry out a shooting attack against Israeli soldiers, rather than planning to fire an anti-tank missile as had previously been believed, reports the paper.
  • Kohavi was also said to make additional comments on the military preparations, which are barred from publication by the military censor.
  • Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate over the death of its fighter in an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria last week.

4. Is the virus waning? Israel Hayom also spotlights research from Hebrew University, which claims the R0 transmission rate of the virus in Israel has been brought below 1, but only just, as a result of new restrictions introduced 10 days ago that put a cap on gatherings.

  • “The basic reproduction number is at 0.99, and that means the virus is on the wane,” says Prof. Yinon Ashkenazy.
  • The research also concludes that the rise in seriously and moderately ill patients has slowed down in the past few days, and is expected to slow further in the coming days.
  • The Health Ministry announced Wednesday morning there were 2,062 new coronavirus cases confirmed over the previous day, but no overnight increase in the death toll or number of patients in serious condition.

5. Putting the coup in Likud: Political drama erupts within Netanyahu’s Likud party as numerous lawmakers were reportedly plotting to oust MK Miki Zohar from his posts of coalition whip and faction leader, after he announced disciplinary measures against party members who allegedly violated coalition discipline.

  • According to Hebrew media, 12 Likud MKs — a third of the party’s lawmakers in the Knesset — signed a request for Zohar’s removal as faction leader. To push out Zohar, at least 19 of the party’s 36 MKs must support his removal.
  • Netanyahu is opposed, the reports say.
  • The reported effort to oust Zohar came hours after he removed MK Yifat Shasha-Biton as head of the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee.
  • Shasha-Biton, who has led the committee since June, butted heads with Netanyahu in overturning a number of cabinet decisions to restrict businesses during the pandemic, including the closures of restaurants, gyms and pools.
  • Her removal requires the approval of the House Committee, which is expected to have a majority backing the move, even if the Blue and White party, which has previously opposed her ouster, abstains.

6. Protest for the right to protest:  Hundreds of protesters gathered on Tuesday evening outside the Tel Aviv home of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana after he was recorded pressuring police brass to step up enforcement against demonstrators rallying against Netanyahu.

  • The demonstration later took a violent turn as several suspected far-right activists attacked protesters. The attackers were seen hitting demonstrators with glass bottles and chairs and spraying them with mace. Organizers of the protest said five people were hospitalized, including two with stab wounds in their backs.
  • “The violence and blood spilled yesterday in Tel Aviv is on the hands of Netanyahu and his messengers. One who sows incitement will receive blood in return. Calling protesters spreaders of disease and inciting against civilians who protest is leading Israel into a civil war,” says Opposition Leader Yair Lapid.
  • Netanyahu condemns the violence on Wednesday afternoon, saying he hopes the police brings the perpetrators to justice. In the same breath, he condemns violent threats against his family.

7. In a pickle: Jewish actor Seth Rogen sets off a Twitter firestorm after he questions whether the Jewish state should exist.

  • Rogen said he was “fed a huge amount of lies about Israel.”
  • “To me it just seems an antiquated thought process,” Rogen said. “If it is for religious reasons, I don’t agree with it, because I think religion is silly. If it is for truly the preservation of Jewish people, it makes no sense, because again, you don’t keep something you’re trying to preserve all in one place — especially when that place is proven to be pretty volatile, you know? ‘I’m trying to keep all these things safe, I’m gonna put them in my blender and hope that that’s the best place… that’ll do it.’”
  • “It doesn’t make sense to me,” he continued. “And I also think that as a Jewish person I was fed a huge amount of lies about Israel my entire life! They never tell you that — oh by the way, there were people there. They make it seem like it was just like sitting there, like the fucking door’s open!…They forget to include the fact to every young Jewish person.”
  • His comments draw praise from pro-Palestinian groups and lamentations from Israel advocates.
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