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Israel media review

Between a shot and a hard pace: What the press is saying on December 17

Vaccines are just around the corner, but before we get there, get ready for some more restrictions, or throw a maskless indoor party to celebrate not getting infected

People walk in Jerusalem on December 16, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People walk in Jerusalem on December 16, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

1. Lock till you pop: Israel’s stumbling path toward a third lockdown is high on the media agenda Thursday morning, with infections piling up like presents beneath the Hanukkah bush.

  • “Between vaccines and a lockdown,” reads the top front page headline of Yedioth Ahronoth. “Vaccine storage is filling up, but in the meantime the virus is rearing up — and Israel is in a race against time,” the paper continues.
  • It’s not much of a race, Prof. Eli Waxman, who advises the government’s pandemic advisory team, tells Army Radio: “We need to take steps immediately. Until the population is vaccinated to a wide enough degree, it will take a long time. The current outbreak needs to be stopped some other way.”
  • “Between vaccination and tightened restraint,” reads a headline from Kan, which reports that malls are not planning on closing, restrictions be damned.
  • “Limitation before vaccination,” reads the top headline in Israel Hayom. (The rhyme works a bit better in the Hebrew, where the word used for the tightened restraint plan actually rhymes with vaccination.)
  • “The success of the government in acquiring hundreds of thousands of vaccinations the first week after it was approved by the FDA cannot be turned into complacency,” Dr. Assaf Peretz tsks in a column for the paper. “It does not free us from the need to ramp up curbs.”
  • Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash tells the tabloid that Israelis can only expect to be able to take off their masks in May or June.
  • “It may be hard for the public to take the restrictions. Some will say it’s illogical to put on more restrictions now that we are starting to vaccinate, but when you analyze the situation in a professional and logical way on the basis of facts, it needs to be dealt with here and now,” he says.
  • Count the Blue and White party among those questioning the logic. Kan reports that party leader Benny Gantz and co. are demanding that the cabinet meet as soon as possible to discuss the possible restrictions on the assumption that they will be needed early next week, but don’t want to make any decisions “without being updated on how the vaccines will affect morbidity in the near term, and how many people they estimate will be vaccinated in the coming month.”

2. Just shoot me: Perhaps the vaccination tortoise is catching up to the limitation hare? Walla reports that Health Ministry officials say it’s safe to assume that the vaccination drive will reach the lower rungs of the general public faster than previously thought, and plans should be drawn up.

  • In Yedioth, columnist Nadav Eyal takes a front-page layup with a column castigating the fake news percolating on the internet against the vaccine. His suggestion: crack down on speech by fining social media firms that don’t remove verboten posts within 12 hours.
  • “We’re not talking about free speech, but policies of for-profit corporations. Our government is so eager to put curbs on us, maybe for once it will stand up to the strong. It passed the coronavirus law and everything, and it can just add a small clause with fines for internet giants who allow false posts on matters that deal with public health,” he writes.
  • Einav Shimron, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry, tells Haaretz that they are way ahead of it. “Facebook has signed on for the public relations effort and they will remove official pages that have fake news and disinformation, and we are in contact with the Justice Ministry’s cyberdepartment on the matter,” she says.
  • ToI sister site Zman Yisrael reports that while the Health Ministry wants to get immunosuppressed patients vaccinated before almost anyone else, and there’s no danger do it, there is a bit of an asterisk there.
  • “It could be that the vaccine will be less effective compared to those with a working immune system, but there’s no fear over giving them the vaccine,” the ministry says in a statement.
  • However, “if the immunosuppressed patients are in a situation of unstable immunity due to a sickness or treatment, they need to check with a doctor about if and when they should get the vaccination.”

3. Guess who’s back: Haaretz notes that infection rates in Haredi areas are skyrocketing, after they appeared to take a respite for a few months.

  • In Jerusalem, the paper reports, some 40 percent of infections are coming from Haredi areas, with 9.6 percent of tests coming back positive, up from 5% just 10 days ago. Bnei Brak is also seeing a resurgence, it says, with 50 new cases a day, up from just 20 new cases per day 10 days ago.
  • The website Behadrei Haredim notes as an aside that the number of active cases in Bnei Brak has doubled in the last week, but aside from that coverage is fairly sparse.
  • A ToI story on infection rates from Wednesday notes that the basic reproduction rate in the ultra-Orthodox community stands at 1.58, far higher than the 1.23 rate nationally, “signaling an acceleration in the spread of COVID-19 in Haredi areas.”
  • Haredi news site Kikar Hashabbat publishes video from the Ponovezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak showing at least 100 students packed into a dining room dancing while holding hands and not wearing any masks.
  • The reason for the dancing, according to the news site: “A thank you party for having made it through the coronavirus period without being harmed.” Good luck with that.

4. Eternal, undivided, divided capital, for now: Comments from Defense Minister Benny Gantz to Saudi-owned newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat get major play in the Israeli press, even if they don’t exactly make the most sense.

  • “Jerusalem must remain united — but with a place within it for a Palestinian capital. [Jerusalem] is a very welcoming city, and full of holy sites for all,” he’s quoted saying.
  • “It was unclear whether or not Gantz was referring to Abu Dis, a small city outside of Jerusalem which outgoing US President Donald Trump’s controversial peace plan designated as the capital of the future Palestinian state. The plan said that Palestinian control of Abu Dis — as well as areas of Jerusalem outside the security barrier, such as Kafr Aqab and Shuafat Refugee Camp — satisfied Palestinian demands for a capital in Jerusalem,” notes ToI’s Aaron Boxerman.
  • They were still enough to piss off some people, Israel Hayom reports, writing that it “sparked a storm on the right.”
  • The site collects a series of tweets from right-wing politicians speaking out against Gantz, and runs a statement from a right-wing group of former generals calls Habit’honistim calling for Gantz to resign as defense minister: “Gantz’s words stand in total opposition to the security parameters of Israel and they have the potential to cause huge damage to its security.”
  • Army Radio is also interested in what Gantz has to say, but not to the Saudis. Instead, it broadcast comments he made in a private Zoom conference with Blue and White party supporters in which he seemed less sure of pushing for elections than he has looked in public.
  • “It’s a long way, we have no idea what will happen in the next few days. There are a lot of stops … We have no idea. We prefer that there not be elections. But if there are we’ll make sure to keep Blue and White in the picture,” he’s quoted saying.

5. Not so new hope: Kan reports that Likud is also worried about going to elections, this time broadcasting Zoom comments from Likud MK Shlomo Karhai.

  • “We have a big fear that there will be a majority of those that are called left-center Zionist parties, without the Joint List and without Likud and the Haredim. If they have the possibility of creating a government of 61 [seats] like that, it will not be simple at all.”
  • Included in that list is apparently Gideon Sa’ar’s new party New Hope, which revealed its platform Thursday morning.
  • On Twitter, a few journalists take note of the fact that the platform appears ripped from the platform of Derech Eretz, whose two MKs have joined up with the Likud mutineer.
  • “It’s almost a copy-paste. Sa’ar added investment in education and judicial reform,” tweets Walla’s Barak Ravid, who also calls it “a time machine in the style of Zvi Hauser’s antiques collection,” noting that one of its goals is implementing the rights of the Jewish people in their historic homeland. Another platform point he finds buried in the supposed center-left party’s platform: building settlements deep in the West Bank.
  • Israel Hayom runs an interview with former Sa’ar ally and current Likud deputy minister Yoav Kisch in which he complains that Sa’ar didn’t call to tell him about his plans to break off, though he would have said no anyway.
  • “He made a bad mistake and it’s too bad he made the mistake. I’m not thinking and don’t plan on going anywhere.”
  • Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich, whose far-right party is also presumably included in Karhai’s center-left calculations, and whose fortunes have sunk since Sa’ar came onto the scene, also goes on the attack against the newcomer.
  • “I don’t see how you can make a party that’s ‘just not Netanyahu,’” he tells Army Radio. “I think that very soon the Israeli public will wake up and realize that those 20 seats are going nowhere and give them back to us.”
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