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Israel media review

Be bitter: What the press is saying on October 21

A ministerial brawl over opening schools breaks into the open, as officials try to bully each other into or out of unrealistic plans and parents and teachers cry out in frustration

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, center, visits students on the first day of school at Chen Nerya school in Alon Shvut, on September 1, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, center, visits students on the first day of school at Chen Nerya school in Alon Shvut, on September 1, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

1. Billion shekel babies: A fight over school openings as virus case numbers cascade downwards has stepped up a notch, with bruising barb-swapping between ministries adding to an already polarized environment.

  • A Tuesday night meeting for ministers to decide on steps to ease the lockdown was postponed at the last moment, with most media reports blaming the lack of agreement between various parties regarding opening up schools. The battle continues to dominate the press landscape Wednesday morning, ahead of a rescheduled meeting on that very subject.
  • It did not take long for sparks to start flying after the news of the meeting cancellation, with both the education and health ministries using the media as the venue for their schoolyard scrap.
  • Amid claims that the Education Ministry is unprepared to open schools since it now needs to find a way to split classes into smaller pods for first and second grade, a ministry source is quoting telling Walla (and other outlets) that it’s not its fault.
  • “Every week we get a different set of answers which don’t match up between what appears in the press and what is written down, and which change from person to person,” the source is quoted saying.
  • A little while later Kan quotes a zinger response from a Health Ministry source who says “it’s so easy to find excuses.”
  • “Even without the coronavirus, every parent in Israel knows the education system was not ready for smaller classes, like with the sardine protests,” the source adds, referring to short-lived protest movements against large class sizes in years past.
  • “Even 100 reforms won’t help. The virus just exposed the existing ills in the system.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth quotes a Health Ministry source also throwing shade at the Education Ministry: ‘This is something that should not be done last minute.”
  • Apparently seeking to join the fray is Modiin Mayor Haim Bibas, the longtime leader of the umbrella group of local council heads. Channel 13 quotes from a letter from Bibas to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he slags off the Health Ministry for its demands: “We were disappointed to discover that the Health Ministry has totally changed its plans and decided to raise stricter new demands which are unreasonable, will hurt students, studies, parents who cannot go back to work, and the state’s coffers.”

2. Split decision: Israel Hayom plays up an Education Ministry proposal to have classes split into two, having kids go to school one week on and one week off, calling it an option of last resort.

  • Even the ministry source it bases the report on doesn’t sound so convinced: “If you want to open schools early, the only way to do it is split the time. In general, it’s not simple to distance-teach, since we don’t have teachers for it, and the teachers will be busy with the other half.”
  • Walla reports that the Health Ministry is still insisting on capsules, though, and notes that having kids home for a week at a time won’t really help parents go back to work.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the demand for capsules in first and second grades came as a surprise to Education Ministry officials during a pre-meeting meeting on Tuesday (despite the fact that the demand was reported in the papers that morning).
  • According to the report, while the Finance Ministry thinks it would cost NIS 6 billion to put together a pod plan, Health Ministry officials think it’s closer to NIS 5 billion, and can be done in a month.
  • Kan reports that the Treasury thinks splitting classes up is impractical anyway.
  • “The [education] system is filled with paradoxes and contradictions, which are placing us in front of a severe crisis. There’s a feeling of being cut off,” an elementary school principal tells Army Radio.

3. Send in the kids: The bickering is not exactly translating into warm feelings among a populace already shaken up by the pandemic.

  • A Tel Aviv parent tells Yedioth that “the plan needs to be of the type that will include all the kids. Their ability to learn by Zoom is very low. I built all my kids their own programs since they are all on at the same time. But the kids are falling behind and I’m worried the year will be lost.”
  • In Israel Hayom, a parent of a fifth-grader writes that he just wants normalization.
  • “Not just with the Emirates, but also in the school system. … It’s not so much to ask. But in the meantime everyone has disappeared — the ministers, bureaucrats, the teachers union. We can’t see life itself anymore. It’s been several long weeks and nobody upstairs in the system is really thinking about how to bring back grades 5-6.”
  • Another parent also expresses worries about shortsighted decision making: “Is anyone talking about the day after,” the parent tells Army Radio. “Is anyone planning for Hanukkah break? It’s been clear for a while that there will be a fight over vacation days. Are they thinking about getting businesses, kids, citizens back to normal? Decisions have a price and the fact that no Israeli government is willing to pay it is the problem.”

4. Subterranean success: While the UAE delegation visit to Israel was met with little fanfare in the press, increasing tensions on the Gaza border to manage to get the media’s attention.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth leads off its tabloid with the discovery of a tunnel near the border, praising the underground barrier that apparently led to its detection as “the wall that beat the tunnel.”
  • The paper’s Yossi Yehoshua goes as far as to compare it to the another amazing Israeli innovation, and I don’t mean cherry tomatoes.
  • “The story of the discovery of the tunnel dug from Gaza is the story of the success of the underground barrier that started to be worked on after Protective Edge in 2014. Like the development of Iron Dome, there were those in the IDF who opposed it due to the costs. This time, in the role of Amir Peretz was Netanyahu, who pushed for the barrier, gave the army an open check of NIS 3 billion [yes, a contradiction], and the project got underway and its bottom section will be completed by the end of the year.”
  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes that just like Hamas switched from rockets to tunnels to beat Iron Dome, it is not sitting on its hands now either: “It’s clear that organizations in Gaza are already working on alternative weapons that could bypass Israel’s defensive deployment. Among other things, they will presumably try to exploit the skies through increased use of drones.”
  • After Hamas shoots a single rocket in apparent response, reserves general Eyal Eisenberg tells Army Radio that Hamas seems to be too busy to worry too much about the wall: “If the spark for Hamas in having the south heat up was the completion of the barrier, they would have challenged it while it was being built. Hamas’s behavior is driven by the economic issue and the coronavirus crisis.”
  • Just as the south was heating up, Channel 13 was reporting that not only had Qatar agreed to pay $60 million to Gaza through the end of the year, but that the payments were a sign that Doha is not only seeking to get back into the loving warmth of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s good graces, but may be warming up to Israel and may soon normalize relations.
  • So it was especially unfortunate when Kan reported just moments before the rocket launch that Hamas was unlikely to respond to the tunnel discovery since it does not want to endanger the deal to keep the money tree watered.

5. Pollwatchers: Getting predictions wrong won’t stop people from making them, and with US elections now less than two weeks away, Israeli pundits are ramping up their coverage — and “analysis” — of the US race.

  • Israel Hayom, which has stumped pretty hard for US President Donald Trump all along, does not change horses midstream. “Trump storms the ground while Biden sits at home,” reads the paper’s headline.
  • Even it can’t escape the polls showing Trump well behind Joe Biden though.
  • “Some two weeks before the vote, the US is inundated with polls, many of them contradictory, but the general picture that emerges is one of Democrats holding a secure lead as the campaign enters its final stretch,” the paper reports.
  • It claims, though, that “new figures on voter registration numbers show Republicans closing the gap with Democrats over the last two weeks, especially in key states.”
  • In one of those states, Pennsylvania, Haaretz’s Danielle Ziri finds lots of Jewish women who are not shy about their plans to vote Biden. “Interviews conducted by Haaretz last week show that at least in the Philly area, suburban Jewish women are overwhelmingly siding with Biden,” she writes.
  • “It’s hard for me to understand how anyone who has Jewish values can support Donald Trump. Look at him with the lies, the way he conducts himself. It has nothing to do with Jewish values,” one woman says.
  • Walla’s Eitan Gilboa, faced with the task of summing up Trump’s first term (a fool’s game with three months left in it) pens several thousand words, though they could all be summed up with this one phrase of his: “The presidency did not change Trump, he changed the presidency.”
  • And what of that other guy? In ToI, Jacob Magid writes that Biden would likely take a less confrontational approach to Israel than Barack Obama did, and pay much less attention than Trump’s administration does. “Biden was seen as less willing than Obama to become embroiled in public spats with the Israeli government. One former Obama administration official told The Times of Israel that Biden had opposed the White House decision to abstain from a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements that passed weeks before Trump entered the Oval Office,” he writes.
  • In any case, though, Israel and the Middle East won’t be at the top of Biden’s agenda. “It’s not that a Biden administration won’t focus on Israel. It just might not be given center stage like it has been in recent years,” an adviser tells Magid.
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