Blood, frogs, lice and curfew: 6 things to know for April 7
Israel media review

Blood, frogs, lice and curfew: 6 things to know for April 7

Having come under fire for plan to shutter largely Haredi areas, Netanyahu opts for more widespread rules, which will see a countrywide closure for the start of Passover

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

Border Police officers talk to a man in downtown Jerusalem on April 6, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Border Police officers talk to a man in downtown Jerusalem on April 6, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. If we’re going down, we’re taking you with us: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced his government’s plan to institute a curfew for the entire country for the night of the Passover Seder, which will be coupled with a four-day-long statewide ban on intercity travel starting Tuesday to ensure Israelis celebrate the holiday with as few people as possible, thereby limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

  • Channel 12’s Dana Weiss notes that while there may be logic behind the decision, it still represented quite the “flip-flop” by Netanyahu and his cabinet, which a day earlier had been preparing the nation for closing down only cities where the infection rates have been highest (i.e., predominantly Haredi towns and neighborhoods).
  • However, this sparked the ire of the mayors of those towns, who gave Netanyahu and ultra-Orthodox ministers Aryeh Deri and Yaakov Litzman an earful, arguing that they would not stand for their sector to be stigmatized and ultimately convincing the three to back down, Weiss reports.
  • Less impressed by the idea is Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer, who argues that Netanyahu has succumbed to pressure rather than make tough decisions: “A month ago, after pressure from Trump, Netanyahu closed Israel’s borders to citizens of all countries, rather than singling out the US. Now, after pressure from the Haredim, he’s planning a curfew on all of Israel rather than single out the towns with high infection rate.”
  • While the rest of the cabinet rallied around the more widespread closure, Health Ministry officials who spoke with the Kan public broadcaster’s Gili Cohen say it would have been more effective from both a public health and economic perspective to focus on the cities where the most residents have been infected.
  • Channel 13’s Nadav Eyal says the health experts he’s spoken are supportive of the statewide closure, pointing out that the concerns among authorities of people violating stay-at-home orders in order to celebrate Passover with their relatives are not only regarding Haredim, but all sectors of society.
  • However, Eyal adds that by the end of the holiday, the closure will have exhausted its effectiveness and it will be critical for the government to begin allowing the less at-risk segments of the population to gradually return to work and school. “But this can only happen if we make it through Passover,” he adds, warning that if the holiday becomes a repeat of Purim, when throngs of Israelis gathered together throughout the country, it’ll derail plans to return to normalcy.
  • Channel 12’s Amalia Duek agrees that the guidelines must indeed be gradually lifted after the holiday, but she cites Health Ministry officials who urge that the restrictions over hot-zone cities remain, at least for the time being.
  • Kan anchor Doria Lampol pushes Deri to explain why he chose to back the Haredi mayors and convince his fellow ministers to change course, but the Shas chairman dismisses the premise of the question and loses his patience with the journalist, telling her she “has difficulties with understanding.” The clip is featured prominently on both Haredi and national religious news outlets.

2. Bad fences make bad neighbors: In Ramat Gan, Mayor Carmel Shama Hacohen orders that a fence be put up at certain exposed points of the city’s border with Bnei Brak in an effort to limit his residents’ contact with their neighbors from the virus-hotbed city.

  • The move sparks a major uproar leading to the fence’s removal within three hours along with an apology from Shama, saying his intention was not to offend anyone or turn Bnei Brak into a “ghetto,” as his critics had charged.
  • In an interview with 103 FM radio, Shama argues that all he was doing was helping to ensure that the lockdown already ordered by the government be upheld. He then goes on to blame the Bnei Brak leadership for “causing a disaster on their own city and then directing their fire at me.”
  • But Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein is having nothing of it, saying in a statement that while “the coronavirus crisis will pass, the inhumane conduct of Shama will be forever remembered infamy.”
  • Fence or no fence, Channel 12’s Karen Marciano says that the Bnei Brak closure is not effective on its own because while there have been 1,323 confirmed cases in the ultra-Orthodox city, only some 200 residents have been removed, leaving the remainder free to infect the others.

3. Chaos rules: While the cabinet had been slated to vote on the measures announced by Netanyahu shortly after he finished speaking last night, several hours passed before officials in the cabinet leaked that their meeting would be delayed until morning. In the meantime, an updated version of the guidelines awaiting approval extended the closure a day longer than the period that the premier had just told the public.

  • “Because why not continue confusing the public and prevent anyone from planning if possible,” Haaretz’s Noa Landau tweets.
  • The last-minute delays and alterations give a feeling that things aren’t exactly under control in the Prime Minister’ Office or the cabinet. Ynet interviews several Arab Israelis who wonder aloud why they’re being placed on lockdown for a holiday they don’t even celebrate. Walla news site reports that their towns won’t actually be placed under curfew, but other sites say the matter has yet to be finalized.
  • The confusion extends to the issue of testing, which continues to lag behind the goal set by Netanyahu to carry out 10,000 daily by now. Channel 13 reports that in nursing homes across the country where 14 elderly have already died from the virus, residents have still gone untested, despite the Health Ministry ordering that everyone at the sites be checked. “I really don’t see an explanation for this,” says analyst and Clalit HMO executive Ran Balicer.
  • Naturally among Netanyahu’s detractors is Haaretz’s editorial, which says the premier has made decisions to spend 2 billion shekels in grants to citizens hit hardest by the virus without consulting with officials in the Finance Ministry regarding how the government is going to pay for such measures.
  • “These actions characterize Netanyahu’s behavior throughout the entire crisis. He acts as a single ruler: commanding his subjects to fulfill his orders, without fieldwork, without proper administrative rules or orderly decision-making, and without consulting professional bodies. All these are unnecessary in his eyes during this emergency,” the left-wing paper writes.
  • One person in the government who does choose to speak up regarding the lack of oversight is Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who writes in a letter to the premier published by Haaretz’s Netael Bandel that the premier cannot indefinitely rely exclusively on the cabinet to pass the emergency guidelines and that the Knesset must be tapped in to the process.
  • The paper’s Pfeffer says that in light of news that the condition of virus-infected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has deteriorated, it’s worth noting that Netanyahu still does not have a deputy who could take over in an emergency. He says this is an advantage of the brewing unity deal with Gantz because the Blue and White leader will fill that role.
  • Meanwhile, with Israelis unsure how much longer they have to shop for Passover, many are racing to their neighborhood grocery store where lines are seen extending for blocks, with people waiting until as late as 4 a.m. just to enter.

4. I get by with a little help from my terror-supporting friends: Just over an hour earlier, the Knesset voted to pass an amendment that will allow the country to increase its budget and deficit in order to finance a NIS 90 billion ($25 billion) economic rescue package to help the country overcome the coronavirus crisis.

  • The bill passes 62-0, relying on three votes from the Arab-majority Joint List to scrape over the line. MK Ahmad Tibi tweets that with so many missing MKs, Likud found itself begging his party for help, noting the irony that the ruling party had repeatedly sought to portray Joint List votes as illegitimate because they were not Zionist and accused the entire slate of “supporting terror.”
  • “It passed with three votes from the Osama, Aida and Ahmad… Oops,” Tibi tweets. “Aren’t you embarrassed to be asking us for our votes?” he asked the Likud lawmakers in a speech from the plenum before the measure was passed.
  • Tibi also uses the opportunity to blast the campaign of “racist incitement” against ultra-Orthodox Israelis that he says has been raging as a result of the high number of cases in Haredi towns. “I feel empathy for all the sick and locked-down in Bnei Brak and for all those who are slandered simply due to the fact that they are different,” he says in a speech carried exclusively by the Haredi Behadrei Haredim and Kikar HaShabbat news sites.
  • “It looks like the Netanyahu government succeeded in passing the holiday grants it promised only thanks to the votes of the Joint List. Because that’s what happens in reality [as opposed] to racial calculations on the drawing board: A vote is a vote.”

5. One step forward, two steps back: While afternoon reports declared that Blue and White and Likud were on the verge of a unity agreement after the former agreed to remove its veto on West Bank annexation in exchange for the latter forgoing its veto over picks made by the committee for appointing judges, they were subsequently followed by declarations of a “blow-up,” with both sides returning to their corners.

  • Srugim’s Atara German reports that Netanyahu walked back on his compromise rescinding Likud control over the justice system after immense criticism from his right wing base.
  • Even in Netanyahu’s home-field paper, PM-fanboy and columnist Mati Tuchfeld writes that such a concession would be a “travesty.”
  • As Yamina lawmakers threaten to bolt to the opposition over the travesty, in Yedioth Ahronoth, Amichai Attali calls on chairman Naftali Bennett to do just that. “Your party is meant to be a voice for the ideological right, not a voice for Bibi,” he writes.
  • Meanwhile, a rather interesting debate unfolds on Twitter between Makor Rishon national religious weekly editor Haggai Segal and Yamina’s Bezalel Smotrich over whether the annexation-for-justice system compromise made by Netanyahu was justified.
  • Smotrich argues that the premier had more to negotiate before making such a compromise, suggesting that he could have offered to give up six months of his term as prime minister in exchange for ensuring that the Justice Ministry portfolio remained in the hands of the right.
  • Segal accuses Smotrich and other right-wingers of “pouting,” when Netanyahu managed to achieve almost immediate annexation (in the coming few months, according to officials involved in the talks) in exchange for giving up on the appointee of a Supreme Court justice in one year.
  • Smotrich responds by saying that the annexation clause in the agreement is anything but a done deal and no different from any of Netanyahu’s previous other promises to advance the matter, whereas ceding control of the High Court to “the left” will allow the justice system to block annexation efforts altogether.
  • “What can we do, the right failed to win 61 seats. And if we are doomed to choose between a good chance of [annexation], a right-wing justice minister or new elections, the choice is pretty clear,” Segal concludes.
  • Over on Kan, political analyst Yaron Dekel argues that even if the sides reach an agreement now on the issue of annexation, it will still end up being the source of the first coalition crisis several months down the road when Gantz seeks to prevent the measure from destroying Israel’s relations with Jordan, Egypt and much of the international community.

6. Pick me up: Keeping with the coronavirus custom of ending this column with some positive news and developments, here are some reasons to smile, even as many prepare to celebrate the holiday on their own.

  • The zoo in Ramat Gan has welcomed a new member to its crew.
  • Doctors at Beilinson Hospital have joined the exploding TikTok fad.
  • Israel might be falling short of the testing goals it has set for itself, but it is still miles ahead of countries across the world.
  • One creative citizen makes light of the egg shortage, labeling each one he has for a specific dish so as to ensure he has enough for that 7th day of Passover shakshuka.
  • Speaking of TikTok, who says your local rabbi can’t join in on the fun?
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