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Israel media review

Class warfare: What the press is saying on October 26

A half-time solution for first and second grades in lieu of pods is widely pilloried for not letting the little people have a say, and a Zoom shouting match goes viral

Workers disinfect a classroom at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on June 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Workers disinfect a classroom at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on June 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. The class ceiling: After days of internal squabbling, ministers voted to do pretty much the only thing they could do, open elementary schools for fourth grade and younger, though first and second grades will only go to class half of the time due to a lack of planning for capsules in their classes.

  • Perhaps trying to get in front of the inevitable backlash as parents of first and second graders realize their nightmare of having little kids home is not totally over, the Education Ministry gives a number of reasons it has to be this way, instead of having grades three and four splitting time.
  • As recounted by Haaretz, these grades are significantly larger than the other grades and the extra teachers they have are not equipped to teach first and second grades: “Most of the instructors enlisted at the start of the year to beef up the education system are for third and fourth grades, and so ‘support instructors’ are lacking training in that area of education.”
  • Walla news quotes Education Minister Yoav Gallant saying that whatever ministers decide, it needed to be decided fast so that the system will at least have a chance to prepare a bit. “Anything to do with enlisting thousands of people can only be done after a budget is passed. Once we make a decision tonight we will translate it into cooperation with parents, teachers and the unions. We are waiting impatiently for a decision on which way to go.”
  • But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is quoted in Channel 13 saying that the kitty is empty: “We came to the conclusion that we cannot fund pods for first and second grades.”
  • The channel reports that that left three options: “Open the classes by halves [for alternating groups of pods], push off the opening in favor of the early opening of businesses, or both together.”
  • In Israel Hayom, Noam Dvir points out that when it comes to linkage between opening the economy and opening schools, it’s generally most important for younger grades with kids who need to be watched. Middle schoolers and high schoolers do not presumably need to be babysat by otherwise working parents.
  • Anyway, having the older kids go to school before the younger ones is just not done, he claims: “The general rule in the education system is you first worry about the youngest, smallest, most tender. That’s how we deal with preschool kids, and that’s what needs to be done with grades 1-2. Nobody wants to have third and fourth grades being taught like everything is normal while some 350,000 kids in first and second grade stay at home.”

2. Power to the little people: There was another option, apparently, which would have involved delegating some power toward the unschooled masses.

  • Kan reports, “During the discussion, the Health Ministry looked into whether local authorities could help get the capsule system up and running for first and second grades. They said in most towns yes, even quickly without a large budget. But the Education Ministry did not allow it and is not prepared to transfer management to local authorities.”
  • A Tel Aviv principal tells Army Radio that the ministry should “give us, the people on the ground, the independence to do what is best for the kids. Not impose strict guidelines on us.”
  • Haaretz reports that school administrators will still be given some flexibility in how they split the classes, though it does not say what that means.
  • Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi is also quoted in Walla pushing the two-class solution by allowing locals to have more say. “The decrease [in infections] has been quicker than experts thought. The public is more flammable than we think. If we don’t take a risk with first and second grades without capsules, we should allow any who want to open with their own solutions, like half-half or something else,” he says.
  • Unsurprisingly, an organization representing school parents is quick to reject the split-time plan. “The government of Israel has abandoned the state’s future generation. Half a week is a sick joke. First and second grade is just the start, it does not bring back the economy or free up parents. What will happen when that gets to middle school or high schools? Goodbye school year 5781, sorry our beloved kids,” Army Radio quotes the group fuming.
  • Asked about officials saying that the solution is the least bad of them, a parent of five tells Ynet “I don’t believe that it’s impossible to find a solution. In my estimation, there’s enough time to plan, creative managers know how to find answers for any situation needed. We just need to put the education of our kids, the future generation, above any political or budget argument — and worry about them.”

3. Let’s fight! There were a lot more things decided at the meeting, like the aforementioned possible partial opening of the economy, increased fines and a lockdown of a Golan Druze town. There were also plenty of fireworks during the meeting, which have become a good source of grist and giggles for Israel’s political reporters.

  • Walla reports that at Sunday’s conversation, Transportation Minister Miri Regev asked “if we are opening retail storefronts, why not open the shuks [open air markets].” Netanyahu’s response: “We won’t manage to control Mahane Yehuda, including all my friends there. This could be in a later stage,” he says, in reference to the Jerusalem open-air market that Netanyahu traditionally visits when there is an election brewing, where the vendors all sing his praises to the ceiling.
  • Israel Hayom writes about a “sharp confrontation” between Finance Minister Israel Katz and Health Ministry official Sharon Elrai-Preis when she tried to present figures showing high infection rates for children.
  • “I don’t accept your attempt to present different figures now about the infection rate of kids at this age, which totally undermine all the numbers presented until now by the Health Ministry and its counterparts around the world,” Katz is quoted telling Elrai-Preis.
  • Kan reports that Katz shut her down when she tried to respond, with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein coming to her defense.
  • “I’m not arguing with a bureaucrat. I have enough arguments with the health minister,” Katz is quoted saying, to which Edelstein responded: “Minister Katz knows how to jump down bureaucrats’ throats. Finance Ministry officials are lying to the cabinet.”
  • According to the report, Netanyahu told Katz he should simmer down and it’s not a problem to argue with the officials. But Israel Hayom reports that on Monday, during a Knesset committee discussion, one Health Ministry official said screw that.
  • The paper reports that ministry deputy head Itamar Grotto, asked via teleconference about the opening of vacation cottages, said it would need to wait until the third stage.
  • Reports Israel Hayom: “Right after Grotto’s comments, MK [Mickey] Levi asked loudly: ‘Why not open the zimmers? Where’s the logic? I can’t criticize you?’ Afterward, Grotto immediately left the discussion which had gotten to raised voices.”
  • The angry kerfuffle gets picked up across the board in the Hebrew, with most of them playing up Grotto’s zinger that “You don’t like it, go to the cabinet.”
  • Even if you don’t understand Hebrew, it’s not hard to understand the universal language of pure unadulterated rage from both Levi and Grotto, who yells as he fumbles and tries to cut the feed.

4. The villagers are restless: Channel 12 news reports on the Druze town of Majdal Shams, which has been locked down to rising infection rates there, and claims other Arab towns are set to follow. As before, weddings are again seen as the main culprit.

  • The channel reports that of 12 cities in danger of being locked down as red zones, 11 are Arab.
  • The only problem is that the numbers don’t necessarily bear out the station’s reporting. In Fureidis, for example, which the station claims has already been declared red, it writes of a “spike in infections.”
  • According to Health Ministry figures though, that spike that Fureidis has experienced equals 6 to 10 new infections in the last week. And even though the station refers to the Fureidis as a village solely by dint of it being Arab, the city has over 13,000 residents, making the 6-10 infections worrisome but no more than that.
  • Another town flagged by the station is Deir al-Assad, with a whopping 11-15 infections in a week out of 12,500 residents.
  • Ayman Seiff, the government official in charge of dealing with the virus in the Arab community, tells Walla that he is worried about an increase in cases and people becoming less compliant with the rules. “The closure is over and there is a feeling of things going soft,” he says. “But we are more worried about the return of weddings and other events.”
  • As for the Palestinians, a Ynet reporter tweets a picture of a slide to be presented by coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu, in which he claims that the Palestinians have a 20 percent positivity rate, and that trips by Arab Israelis to the West Bank for shopping are a major factor in infection rates, as well as 100,000 workers who cross back and forth daily.
  • Not that there are hard feelings. Shmuel Shapira, the head of the Israel Institute for Biological Research, says once a vaccine is approved they will share it with the Palestinians.
  • “We will prepare doses for very close neighbors,” he tells the Ynet news site, later clarifying that he means the Palestinians.
  • Haaretz’s Nir Hasson notes that Israelis and Palestinians have been cooperated famously during the pandemic, at least in East Jerusalem.
  • “East Jerusalem activists have agreed with the Home Front Command that the coronavirus is a common enemy, which has helped reduce tensions. But other residents of East Jerusalem have said that the activists who have been working with the soldiers are not from the mainstream of Jerusalem Palestinian society,” he writes. “Instead, they say, they are Palestinians who have tended in any event to be more cooperative with Israel. Contrary to expectations, however, since the beginning of the second wave, there has been almost no opposition to such cooperation in the field or on social media.”
  • He quotes an East Jerusalem expert saying: “The question is how accepted they are and how representative of the population. Alongside them are the community administrations that have received generous funding and have proven that they have a high capacity to carry things out. And then there are the folks who can’t even utter the word ‘city hall’ – but even there, the beginnings of cooperation can be seen. It’s done through quiet dialogue – things that we haven’t seen in the past. The subsiding of the Palestinian issue is also manifesting itself in Jerusalem.”

5. Into Africa: The press also has plenty to say about the Sudan deal coming together, and many questions linger.

  • In Israel Hayom, columnist Oded Granot hails the agreement as “the crumbling of another brick in the wall of Arab hostility.”
  • But he kind of undermines his own argument by noting, “The fact that three more countries have joined the circle of peace with Israel is undoubtedly impressive and heartwarming, but we must bear in mind that at this stage, these treaties are with rulers, not peoples.”
  • Those rulers, though, are pretty excited about the deal, reports Globes, quoting a government source saying that Khartoum is “waiting impatiently” for the start of bilateral trade.
  • According to the report, despite Sudan being one of the poorest countries on the planet, there’s huge potential to make money for some lucky neo-colonialists.
  • “According to various reports, Saudi Arabia, the silent partner in these diplomatic dealings, sees Sudan’s agricultural lands as a solution to its own food security issues, and is ready to invest a lot in getting it going. When you put Israeli agricultural tech into the equation, the potential is huge.”
  • Speaking to China’s state-run Xinhua, expert Gil Feiler of the Begin-Sadat center at Bar-Ilan University says the main upshot is that Iran lost an ally and a smuggling route for its weapons.
  • “Sudan is abandoning the resistance alliance led by Iran,” he says. “It will no longer be able to transfer weapons to Hamas or cooperate with Hezbollah. Sudan served as a tunnel for these organizations.”
  • The deal may seem like a win-win for some, but Sudanese asylum-seekers who may be sent back to a regime they fled likely do not see it the same way.
  • “Unlike many Europeans and other countries who see themselves as sharing responsibility for dealing with the refugees, the Israel of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri has tried to shirk its duty in every possible way. For years Israel blocked Sudanese citizens from even submitting asylum requests, and even after it allowed this, it has evaded making any decisions, neither denying the requests nor accepting them, leaving these people without any official status or rights, other than a single lucky Sudanese national who was granted asylum,” reads the lead editorial in Haaretz. “Israel must evaluate the Sudanese asylum requests irrespective of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Sudan.”
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