Always be (kinda) closing: 5 things to know for June 24
Israel media review

Always be (kinda) closing: 5 things to know for June 24

With infection numbers on the rise, Israel begins to put light ‘lockdowns’ back in place in some locales, while dusting off the ol’ phone tracker to nab the rest of the carriers

A police checkpoint at the entrance to Elad, June 24, 2020. (Flash90)
A police checkpoint at the entrance to Elad, June 24, 2020. (Flash90)

1. Higher and higher: With the number of daily coronavirus cases rocketing higher and higher, attention is turned to the fight against the scourge and what Israel is or is not doing wrong.

  • “Worrying rise,” reads the top headline in Israel Hayom, pointing to the 459 cases recorded over 24 hours between Monday evening at 7 p.m. and Tuesday evening at 7 p.m.
  • The numbers are actually difficult to track, because there is more than one agency reporting and the Health Ministry releases data three times a day, but only begins its daily tally at midnight, meaning cases recorded between its final 10 p.m. update and midnight are lost to the ether and math is needed to try and figure out the discrepancy, until a day later, when the ministry posts final numbers for the full midnight to midnight period.
  • Thus when the ministry released figures at 10 p.m. Tuesday, it claimed there had been 351 cases over the day, but Channel 12 news was able to report that the 24-hour figure had actually topped 500 cases.
  • According to Channel 12 news, unlike the first wave, the second is being marked by the wide dispersal of cases, with at least a dozen cities seeing small breakouts, and isolated cases in plenty of other places.
  • Expect the numbers to rise. Israel Hayom reports that the Health Ministry has ordered health maintenance organizations to carry out tests for anyone in the immediate family of a sick person “to diagnose sick people as early as possible and cut the [infection] chain at the head.”

2. Locks and smear on wry: Regardless of how many hundreds it is, worries are rampant, leading the government to lock down more areas, this time ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Tiberias and the whole ultra-Orthodox city of Elad.

  • The “lockdowns” fall far short of actual lockdowns, with residents allowed to leave and outsiders allowed in for a variety of reasons, but with the added bonus of a stigma now placed over the areas.
  • Ynet notes that Tiberias has only seen seven new cases in the last three days, while other cities have seen much higher numbers, like Ashdod, which had 54 cases.
  • The news site also reports from Elad, where the lockdown seems to be doing little else than annoying people and scaring away business. “It’s not a real lockdown,” one resident says. There’s a feeling that they were only locked down because they are ultra-Orthodox, the site notes.
  • Kan reports on a Military Intelligence study that finds that Haredi cities are once again the main virus spread zones. “Cases identified this week in Bnei Brak, Elad, Beitar Ilit, Modiin Ilit and Beit Shemesh make up 14 percent of all new infections,” the station reports.
  • According to Channel 12, Jerusalem remains the granddaddy of them all, with over 100 new cases in the last three days.
  • Bat Yam, which has also seen scads of new cases, is also not being locked down, though the mayor does call for the beaches to be shuttered.
  • Reporting from the city, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Meir Turgeman writes that nobody seems to care much about the possible outbreak there, at least those at the beach. “I actually don’t see a lot of people with masks on. Everyone is neglecting them,” says one beach-goer. “Here at the beach, in the open air, it seems safe, and we are far from others, but the feeling is everyone is doing what they want.”

3. Shin Bet to the rescue? With infections on the rise and full lockdowns of the type experienced during the first wave not on the table, at least according to Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, the government may be looking to fast-track legislation that would allow the Shin Bet to start tracking the phones of carriers again.

  • Several news outlets report that the government is set to meet on the issue Wednesday afternoon, though even before the meeting there are reports on a Likud-Blue and White agreement to push the controversial measure through.
  • Army Radio reports that ministers who have opposed the use of the measure until now are saying that they intend to pull their opposition given the statistics they have seen.
  • Walla news reports that those opposed have a few other demands as well. According to the site, Blue and White is insisting that Defense Minister Benny Gantz be given the ability to veto deployment of the system, which has been widely pilloried over privacy concerns.
  • Channel 12 news reports that the Health Ministry won’t actually be allowed to store the data, because of privacy concerns.
  • “The testing system is finished, the guidelines are confusing, the opening of the schools turned out to be an organizational disaster, politicians are not setting an example, it’s impossible to go back to the full closure because the economy would collapse, use of the civilian version failed, so what’s left? To deploy the Shin Bet and up fines. Everything here is fixed with policing Band-Aids,” tweets Haaretz’s Noa Landau.

4. No tact, no tax: Alongside the poor virus numbers is the even poorer optics of Netanyahu getting tax benefits as the country struggles under the weight of the pandemic and economic crisis.

  • “The breaks and the broken,” reads the front page of Yedioth, which uses its whole A1 to contrast the issues in big block letters, with the paper also calling a committee meeting to approve the benefits the “theater of the absurd.”
  • Columnist Meirav Batito writes that of all of Netanyahu’s mistakes, this is the one that “finally cements his place as a greedyguts protected by the law.”
  • A sound technician, whose industry is among the worst hit, fumes to Army Radio that “on the day that people are hungry for bread, Netanyahu gets tax breaks? I say on behalf of my whole industry, we are stopping paying taxes.”
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial is no more forgiving, and also lashes out at Likud MK Miki Zohar for claiming that Netanyahu, a multimillionaire several times over, would be left destitute if he had to pay taxes for work done on his mansion and his use of an armored car.
  • “To depict him as someone who has trouble getting through the month is a bad joke, especially at a time when hundreds of thousands of taxpayers truly don’t know how they’ll make it through the month. Netanyahu would do better to learn from other countries, where leaders have cut their own salary or donated it to the public welfare as a sign of solidarity with the public. But not Netanyahu.”

5. Deep shit state: When it comes to West Bank annexation, it had been yes Netanyahu and no Gantz. But now they appear to be on the same page and the only remaining question appears to be not if, but how.

  • Reuters reports that discussion in the White House over the issue began Tuesday, though did not exactly go anywhere: “The officials on Tuesday held what one source called ‘informal internal discussions.’ No decisions were reached at the meeting, which [Jared] Kushner attended before leaving with [Donald] Trump on a trip to Arizona, the U.S. official said.”
  • Israelis got a bit more clarity about Gantz’s position, with him saying that he won’t wait around for the Palestinians forever and won’t be dragged into their “deep shit.”
  • The comments are widely interpreted as tacit backing for annexation, or at least as admission that he won’t actively oppose it.
  • “Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz won’t put a halt to the West Bank annexation plan. If anyone on the left still harbored any illusions on that score, they were disabused of them on Tuesday,” writes Amos Harel in Haaretz. “Gantz doesn’t intend to sacrifice his own skin to stop Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On the contrary. Speaking to defense reporters on Tuesday, Gantz sounded like he was just going with the flow for Netanyahu, even looking to justify the prime minister’s policies.
  • That’s not to say Gantz is all for it. Political sources close to Netanyahu are quoted on Channel 13 expressing frustration with Gantz, and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, for failing to back Netanyahu’s annexation plan. Unnamed sources close to the two Blue and White party leaders, by contrast, claimed Netanyahu has yet to specify exactly what he aims to annex and when, and thus they cannot formulate a firm stance on it.
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