Black hat hackers: 6 things to know for April 6
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Black hat hackers: 6 things to know for April 6

Netanyahu reportedly waffles on expanding closures to additional Haredi towns and neighborhoods as ultra-Orthodox ministers accuse him of singling out their community

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Medics wearing protective clothes walk near a bus with a man who was tested positive for the coronavirus on Route 1 near Jerusalem on April 5, 2020. (Flash90)
Medics wearing protective clothes walk near a bus with a man who was tested positive for the coronavirus on Route 1 near Jerusalem on April 5, 2020. (Flash90)

1. Close to a closure: While Hebrew media across the board had reported that the cabinet last night would vote to have a host of Haredi towns and neighborhoods join Bnei Brak on the list of locked-down cities, in the end, ministers decide to take another incremental step toward that result without closing the deal entirely.

  • What the cabinet does do is give authority to special ministerial committee to order citywide closures a committee created for just that purpose. Why the seeming non-decision  decision? Kan reports that Prime  Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got cold feet about the idea, worried about how a Haredi-wide closure would look.
  • The network reports that Haredi ministers Ayreh Deri and Yaakov Litzman expressed their deep disgust with a “sectoral closure” and that while Netanyahu was sympathetic to their concerns, he is leaning toward agreeing to close down ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem, along with cities Elad, Or Yehuda, Migdal Haemek, Beitar Illit, Modiin Illit, Ashkelon and Tiberias. Although one government official who spoke to Kan wondered if secular cities such as Ashkelon were thrown on to the list so it would not seem like only Haredim are being targeted.
  • The often-sensational Yedioth Ahronoth daily points out in one of its headlines that the government is effectively “dividing Jerusalem” by blocking off Haredi neighborhoods in its effort to control the outbreak.
  • Meanwhile, Deri drops a bit of a bombshell on Channel 12 when he says the the cabinet is weighing a countrywide shutdown on the eve of Passover that could extend for the entire holiday period in order to prevent extended families from gathering to celebrate together. And with that, Hebrew media was given a couple days’ worth (until Passover that is) of stories about arguments among ministers until a decision is actually made.
  • Kan’s Roy Yanovsky reports that in preparation for such a move, police have started placing checkpoints at major junctions throughout the country. Channel 12’s Moshe Nussbaum says that some 300 Israelis were caught at roadblocks entering Jerusalem with lots of luggage, attempting to preempt the closure order and reach their families days before the Passover Seder. They were all turned back to the cities from which they came.

2. You close us down, we’ll close you down: Because tensions weren’t high enough until now, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni tells the B’hadrei Haredim Haredi news site that if the cabinet goes ahead and shuts down ultra-Orthodox towns only, his party will not be part of Netanyahu’s government.

  • Gafni is joined by “senior Haredi officials” who tell Channel 13 that they are livid with Netanyahu and Health Minister Moshe Bar Siman-Tov’s willingness to go along with what they have deemed exclusively Haredi enforcement and let the two have it in a series of messages that were passed along to them.
  • The Kikar Hashabbat Haredi website headlines its story on the cabinet meeting with the word “disgrace.”
  • Evidently feeling the pressure, Netanyahu subsequently issued a statement of his own blasting the “wild incitement” campaign in the media against the Haredi public, whose towns have become virus hotbeds.
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer reacts to the statement, sarcastically calling Netanyahu a “genius” for succeeding within a day in turning the neglecting of a million Haredi citizens by members of his government to a story of “the media is to blame.”
  • Indeed, the target of much of the disgust among Haredi pundits and those defending  the sector has been Channel 12’s Rina Matsliah, who on the Friday night news panel chided the entire ultra-Orthodox population for ignoring the government’s guidelines. But besides her, no one seems to have been able to point to a prominent pundit who has been leading this campaign of “wild incitement.”
  • Former Labor candidate Emilie Moatti takes issue with those labeling criticism of Haredim anti-Semitic. While some such as Mishpacha magazine editor Yossi Elituv say that members of the public are choosing to blame those who look most outwardly Jewish, Moatti writes that “this means that the ultra-Orthodox are the real Jews and the rest are not.”
  • For his part, former Health Ministry director Igor Barabash says on Channel 12 that he hopes the increased presence of military forces in Haredi towns will be the start of an evolving relationship the sector has with the army.

3. Terrible test-takers: Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus tests being conducted each day continues to fall well below the goal set by Netanyahu. While the premier talked about hitting 10,000 tests by now, labs have been lagging far behind, Channel 12 reports, falling to some 5,000 yesterday compared to six and seven thousand in previous days.

  • However, the network says that a lab at Beilinson hospital has found a replacement for some of the materials missing that could allow for a shipment of 250,000 tests to be released for use.
  • Kan reports that sick Israelis experiencing coronavirus symptoms are lying to medical officials in order to receive permission to get tested because the criteria are so strict. The network plays a recording of a phone call during which an HMO staffer tells a sick caller, “make up symptoms, what’s the big deal?”
  • Frustration over the lack of tests spills over during the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee hearing, during which Heath Ministry deputy director Itamar Grotto tells Hadassah director Ze’ev Rubinstein to stop “spewing nonsense” when the former asserts that the latter’s office is lying about the number of tests it’s been able to carry out. Channel 13 cites a number of unnamed senior officials who tell the network that Grotto is in the wrong and that the office is indeed deceiving the public regarding its testing capabilities.
  • Yedioth has a story going through the various promises by the government related to testing and other issues surrounding the pandemic response, showing how most of them were not kept. Those not kept have included vows to grant families holiday stipends, to place 1,000 new beds in hospitals and to place every Israeli who returns from abroad in state-funded isolation hotels.
  • Frustration surrounding the government’s handling of outbreaks at nursing homes and assisted living centers also grows as a sixth resident from the Mishan facility in Beersheba succumbs to the virus. Channel 12 reports that two other residents who have contracted the virus have yet to be removed from the site.
  • Channel 12 speaks to the mother of one Mishan resident who blasts the site’s management. “This is how you take care of grandma and grandpa?” In its response to the report, Mishan says responsibility for conducting tests and removing patients falls on the Health Ministry, while a Health Ministry spokesman refutes the claim and asserts that Mishan is responsible.
  • The network separately highlights south Tel Aviv as another possible future virus hotspot due to the large number of migrants and those needing welfare services who don’t necessarily have homes to quarantine in during this period. Ichilov hospital has opened up a testing facility at the old central bus station in that part of the city, with one of the doctors at the site telling  Channel 13 it is the state’s responsibility to not neglect refugees.

4. Who you calling an at-risk minority? While some analysts have been lumping the Arab Israeli sector along with the ultra-Orthodox in terms of minorities at risk of suffering most from an outbreak, reporters who have done on-the-ground reporting say the two communities are nothing alike on this issue.

  • On Kan, Roy Sharon speaks to a National Security Council official who says that while there had been initial consideration of bringing soldiers into Arab towns to help enforce the lockdown there, there was a realization that there aren’t enough case in the sector to justify such a move.
  • “Those who link the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs together do not understand anything. Meanwhile, there is no sign of an outbreak in the Arab sector.The first Arab town in the list [of most impacted cities] is in 60th place! True, there are not enough tests being done there, but a short life expectancy, the absence of Purim celebrations and the following of the closure have kept them out of trouble,” writes Haaretz’s Nir Hasson.
  • Walla’s Maya Horodniceanu expounds on the point, saying that the conduct of the Palestinian Authority has also contributed to the Arab Israeli sector’s relatively low numbers, at least in East Jerusalem, where parents followed the guidelines of Ramallah and refused to send their kids to schools, even before Jerusalem ordered them shut down.
  • Haaretz’s Jacki Hugi cites Health Ministry data showing that only 193 of the over 8,000 coronavirus cases in Israel are Arab citizens. But he has a less optimistic reasoning for the numbers. “Experts say a partial explanation is due to the lack of tests carried out by the Health Ministry in the Arab communities along with the fact that epidemiological investigations have not been conducted to find more patients.”
  • However, Hugi also writes that if the problem were much worse in the Arab sector, hospitals would be seeing more patients from such communities in serious condition, regardless of whether or not they had been tested.

5. Talkin’ bout the annexation: Coalition negotiations are carrying on as the sides seek to form a government to help the country through the crisis before the crisis ends, but can’t seem to reach an agreement on the issue of annexation.

  • Channel 12’s Amit Segal reports that Likud is not asking for it to take place tomorrow, but is not willing to wait more than two or three months. Blue and White negotiators, for their part, are trying to tie the issue to the broader effort to “protect” the justice system, arguing that speeding up the process without going through the proper legal channels is unacceptable. It is through that framework, Segal explains, that Benny Gantz’s party is hoping to convince Telem mutineers Tzi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel to stick with it instead of bolting to Likud in order to back annexation.
  • Channel 13’s Raviv Drucker reports that Likud is claiming Gantz had agreed to more immediate annexation, but then got cold feet and is now only agreeing to allow for it to come to a vote in six months.
  • In typical Haaretz form, the left-wing paper’s editorial takes Netanyahu and Gantz to task for even considering annexation at this time. “Why, in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis — with the health system on the verge of collapse, the education system disabled, citizens in isolation, the elderly separated from their families, curfew instituted in cities, and more than one million Israelis entering the cycle of unemployment – why during all of this chaos is what’s troubling Netanyahu, and probably other parts of the right-wing ‘bloc’ that he has been strengthening for months, is the question of unilateral annexation of the territories the issue that is most disturbing for them.”
  • “The fact that Netanyahu is pushing for an ’emergency’ government to make changes to the state’s borders… is supposed to spark a flashing red light over the heads of Blue and White lawmakers,” the editorial argues.
  • The parties are also in a race against time as Gantz must return the government-forming mandate to President Reuven Rivlin in less than a week. The Blue and White leader is therefore slated to request an extension. However, Drucker points out that while there is no precedent for a president to reject such a request, there is also no precedent for an MK requesting an extension for a different lawmaker to form a government.

6. Pick me up: With yet another day of still depressing news, here are some reasons to smile despite it all.

  • Adam Sandler hails doctors and nurses in a new “Quarantine Song.”

  • The lockdown in Bnei Brak is allowing Yiddish to make a comeback among IDF soldiers.
  • Former Health Ministry director Barabash tells Channel 12 that for the first time he’s feeling cautiously optimistic about the situation, highlighting that the number of new cases in Israel has gone from doubling at a rate of once every six days to once every eleven days.
  • Patients can now put a face to the masked men and women who are serving them.
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