Declaring a win at halftime: 7 things to know for May 6
Israel media review

Declaring a win at halftime: 7 things to know for May 6

The coronavirus and Iran are so yesterday; but while some consider both of them kicked to the curb, others are fretting over the inevitable backlash

Workers arrange beach chairs and umbrellas at the Tel Aviv beach on May 5, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Workers arrange beach chairs and umbrellas at the Tel Aviv beach on May 5, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

1. We won …ish: How solidly has Israel seemingly beaten back the coronavirus, at least in the national psyche? So much so that coronavirus-related stories lead none of Israel’s major dailies Wednesday morning (only one paper, ultra-Orthodox HaPeles, has it as its top story, and that is to complain about yeshivas not opening up).

  • The virus, and particularly recovery from it, is still very much part of the fabric of life, though, and there’s plenty of coverage of that.
  • With no deaths overnight and only 25 new cases, Channel 12 news reports that “the stabilizing trend is continuing,” though it also notes that there are still some hotspots, particularly the Bedouin town of Hura. On its website, the item is accompanied by health care workers jumping for joy.
  • A headline on the front page of broadsheet Haaretz notes that “there’s a feeling of the end of the coronavirus.”
  • “So far, even though we have to wait at least another week, there are no stats showing a renewed rise in the infection rate after the lifting of restrictions and the general disinclination to follow the rules,” writes Amos Harel.
  • Israel Hayom, reporting that people have “gotten back to normal,” says that government officials are “looking into reopening synagogues within a number of days.”

2. Ready for round 2? But there are also rampant fears that there could be a resurgence of the virus, either now with limits lifted, or as the flu season returns next year.

  • Health Ministry director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov tells the New York Times that Israel is embarking on a massive antibody testing program to find out who had the disease and is seemingly immune in order to shape policy to prepare for that second wave.
  • “This is the most important mission: Get ready for the next wave, especially a wave during wintertime,” he is quoted saying, in an interview widely reported on in Hebrew media. “Luckily, the Covid-19 caught us post-influenza season. But we can’t assume that there’s not going to be a next wave or that it will be during summertime.”
  • “The survey’s findings could spur preparations for any strong resurgence of the virus, perhaps when hospitals and health clinics are also busy with seasonal influenza,” the piece reads.
  • However, the piece notes that if the virus mutates, the 2.4 million antibody tests ordered from the US and Italy may be worthless.
  • The Calcalist financial daily reports that the Health Ministry is in the meantime preparing for a situation in which there are 3,000 patients who need to be on ventilators, seeking to order 2,000 more hospital beds and significantly stock and upgrade Israel’s ICUs to the tune of NIS 1.5 billion, which the Treasury has yet to approve.
  • “We have to be prepared for the next wave and take advantage proactively of the time we have to set things up as much as possible,” it quotes from a letter sent by Bar Siman-Tov to National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat.
  • In Israel Hayom, health expert Ran Balicer writes that Israel “crushed the curve,” but “we need to remind ourselves again and again, this is not over.”

3. No parent left behind: With recovery only beginning, for many the first wave is also still very much here and now. In Yedioth Ahronoth, Amichai Eteli writes that the idea of a “return to normalcy” for many people is nothing more than “out-and-out lies.”

  • “A father who drops off his kid at school at 8 and needs to pick her up again five hours later has not really returned to stable work. But there’s no afternoon care,” he writes, complaining that nobody cares about parents, with schools refusing to babysit their kids more than health officials allow yet.
  • Health Ministry director Shmuel Abuav tells Kan that the afternoon care issue is on its way to being solved and he thinks they will open next week. But he complains that some demands being made of the school system are unrealistic.
  • “We aren’t going to create a perception that we can push a button and deal with everything. We are in a complicated situation that the country and the world have never been in. Nobody is celebrating or getting excited. There is a need for [recognizing] reality,” he says.
  • Walla reports that daycare workers are continuing to protest and are demanding direct talks with the Treasury. Among their demands are compensation for the time they had to be closed, special guidelines in place for teachers who have to miss time because they get sick, and special testing procedures.
  • “The Treasury’s ongoing behavior is abandoning daycares which look after 350,000 children,” the news site quotes an umbrella group for the workers saying.

4. Learning to eat soup with a mask: While many businesses and other areas are back up and running, restaurants still remain closed for hosting diners.

  • But Army Radio reports on a plan drawn by up Tel Aviv’s mayor, who seems to want to hit the ground running, to reopen restaurants which are very much a vital part of the city’s cafe culture.
  • The plan would require alcohol gel at every table and disposable menus, among other special measures, according to the report.
  • Channel 12 notes that the city wants permission to reopen eateries by May 15, a month before the government has said it would consider such a move nationwide.
  • Speaking to ToI, health expert Yehuda Carmeli says going out to eat can potentially be fine: “I wouldn’t say don’t go to restaurants. If I go with my own immediate family that I live with, and we have a separate area that is separated by dividers, you can create a situation where you can still go to a restaurant. Probably you will have 50% occupancy; you cannot have 100% occupancy. But as long as people behave in a responsible way, you can do it.”

5. Iran run out on a rail? Among the other major stories is the Defense Ministry claim that Iran is pulling out of Syria thanks to its proactive campaign there to pummel them from the air (though Bennett had been touting the plan even before the virus struck).

  • “Officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that this effort appears to be bearing fruit as Iranian forces have begun leaving the country, evacuating a small number of military bases previously under their control in the process,” reports ToI’s Judah Ari Gross. “The officials said that while Israel does not believe the Iranians will accept these setbacks without responding in some way, an imminent retaliation does not appear to be in the offing.”
  • Widely quoted are comments from Defense Minister Naftali Bennett claiming that Syria is unimportant to Iran, but life and death for Israel.
  • Yedioth’s Alex Fishman casts doubt on the idea that Israel is actually making much headway against Iranians in Syria, writing that Bennett is far inflating his successes, as he has done in the past: “The Iranians haven’t gone anywhere. The assessment is that they lowered their heads in the Syrian arena, which is less important to them now, until November. Then they will see who wins the US election and choose a path accordingly. A short-sighted approach, which already declares an end to the Iranian era in Syria, is just a reminder that sensitive posts, especially those that require endangering lives and using force, cannot become temporary political stations.”
  • Israel Hayom’s Yoav Limor also calls the Defense Ministry officials’ claims “premature joy.”
  • “Iran is serious, too, and it’s not certain that it will turn tail. The Iranians have already proved that they’re serious, sophisticated, and stubborn – if they are shoved out the door, they’ll come in through the window, or down the chimney. Now that airports are being attacked regularly, they’ll find an alternative,” he writes.

6. Gaza swap meet: Yedioth leads off its pages with a claim that progress is being made toward a prisoner swap deal with Hamas, going off a report in Germany’s Die Zeit on German and Swiss diplomats joining an Egyptian general to negotiate.

  • Writing about the Die Zeit report before it even came out, Yedioth’s Ronen Bergman says that the “important information revealed” in the German weekly “may testify to their possible chances of success.”
  • While the story quotes an Israeli official saying there is a better chance now than ever, Bergman also notes that German diplomats are wary of the optimism shown by their counterparts in Jerusalem.
  • Channel 12 reports that a Hamas delegation will visit Egypt over the weekend to discuss the negotiations, in what it portrays as a sign that a deal may be coming together. However, it also notes that Hamas officially claims there has been no progress.
  • Despite all the background noise, there are still no specifics about what the deal supposedly coming together might look like. Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right politician who is opposed to releasing any prisoners in a deal, tells Army Radio that “the prime minister refused to update me regarding the swap deal.”

7. Justice, in suspension: The issue of releasing prisoners with blood on their hands is one that Israelis have dealt with before and brings up memories of the last major deal, for the return of Gilad Shalit in 2011.

  • Speaking to ToI, Arnold and Frimet Roth, who lost their daughter Malki in a 2001 bombing in Jerusalem, are hoping to finally see some renewed justice for one person freed in that deal, Ahlam Tamimi, who oversaw the bombing but was released in the 2011 swap.
  • The Roths tell ToI editor David Horovitz not only of their memories of their daughter and the aftermath of her tragic death, but also new efforts in which they hope to see the US extradite Tamimi from Jordan, where she has become a celebrity, using a law designed to pursue terrorists who kill US citizens abroad.
    The extradition has been stuck for years, but now, they hope, the US may be leaning toward withholding $1.7 billion in aid to Jordan if Amman does not cough her up.
  • “When I have these conversations, I see Malki’s face in front of me,” says Arnold Roth. “We’re not looking for a tax break or to be appointed an ambassador. This is justice for Malki; this is our highest calling.”
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