Israel media review

Discombobulate the curve: 6 things to know for July 9

Netanyahu is seen as having his priorities mixed up, and the country’s overall strategy of fighting the virus is revealed to be a unhealthy mix of confusion, bad data and hypocrisy

A man uses a mask as a blindfold at the burial site of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai in Mount Meron on July 7, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)
A man uses a mask as a blindfold at the burial site of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai in Mount Meron on July 7, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

1. First the judges, then the virus: With infections and the morbidity rates rising, Israelis are anxiously anticipating the next round of closures, wringing their hands over all the things still going wrong with the government’s response to the coronavirus and wondering how the country will ever get out of the mess it finds itself back in.

  • But amid all that there is still plenty of room for indignation and anger over the political drama du jour that is consuming the government — a swiftly forming battle over a proposal to establish a parliamentary committee to investigate Supreme Court justices’ alleged conflict of interests.
  • “1,300 sick in a day, 850,000 without work, and they are busy with judge investigations,” reads a massive headline splashed across the front of popular/populist tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth, alongside a picture of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a mask.
  • “Most Israelis, on the right and left, are having trouble understanding the prime minister’s order of priorities. Announcements coming out of his office speak of him working day and night to overcome the coronavirus crisis, but in actuality he’s mostly busy with other matters. First tax benefits for him from the state, afterward permission to take millions from a billionaire, after that annexation that didn’t happen, and now a parliamentary committee to bring down the Supreme Court. Maybe his time is on corona, but his head, his heart, are in other places,” writes the paper’s Nahum Barnea.
  • “The bottom line,” writes Tal Shalev in Walla, “the pictures that came out of the parliament testified mainly to the sad disconnect with what the public is truly dealing with these days. It was not coronavirus tests, nor problems with Shin Bet tracking of masses, nor school capsules [separated groups of students], or the restaurateurs in crisis that caused hysteria in the coalition and opposition, but pure politics.”
  • In Haaretz, Yossi Verter alleges, apparently not in jest, that Netanyahu is merely a puppet, with a cabal made up of his wife Sara and son Yair. “[Yair] himself composes tweets, invective and lowbrow curses against the judges. In the distribution of powers and distortions within Balfour, Junior is responsible for the legal system, and the missus deals with money matters. The shameful discussion on tax refunds is Sara. The harassment of judges is Yair. And the prime minister? Just their pawn.”

2. This close to new elections: Verter and others also claim that the government was indeed moments away from collapse had the controversial proposal actually passed, which he says is to the credit of Yamina, which forced the government into its uncomfortable posture, leading Blue and White to threaten to essentially pull out of the government over it.

  • Had Yesh Atid-Telem and Yisrael Beytenu only had the smarts to leave the plenum and allow the measure to pass, “the government would have dissolved lickety-split,” he writes.
  • Shas leader Aryeh Deri certainly thought so, reportedly putting him in enough of a tizzy to yell at Netanyahu and hang up on him, not something a politician normally does to the prime minister.
  • “This will topple the government, you want to topple the government?” he yelled before slamming down the receiver, according to Walla news.
  • Channel 12 news reports that Deri also said that there are “a million unemployed people and you’re leading [us to] elections.”
  • Speaking to Army Radio, Yamina’s Bezalel Smotrich claims that the idea that the government would have collapsed over the bill is poppycock. “Blue and White only gets nine seats in the polls,” he claims, downplaying what the unreliable polls actually say by a few seats.
  • Israel Hayom quotes coalition whip Miki Zohar saying that the government is not long for this world anyway, complaining of having to ally with centrist Blue and White. “What’s holding this government together is just the coronavirus crisis. If we were not in the second wave, it’s possible there would not be a government like this.”
  • The paper also publishes a column heavily critical of judges’ conflicts of interest, possibly foreshadowing that this particular fight is not over yet.

3. A virus by the people, for the people and because of the people: If the resurgent outbreak is the only thing keeping the government together, it seems to be doing everything it can to make sure the virus sticks around, with general criticism of the government’s response to the crisis seemingly spreading faster than the pathogen itself.

  • This only ramps up after Channel 12 news publishes a message from a Netanyahu aide blaming the roof-partying public, and not poor policy-making, for the rise in cases.
  • “When it looked like Israel was winning the fight against the virus, in fact, Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted to embody that effort. Now, the resurgence of the plague is all the fault of the people,” writes Noga Tarnopolsky in The Daily Beast.
  • Kan’s Liel Kayzer writes that the decision to demand that buses run with no air-conditioning and only windows open, even though most buses in Israel do not have windows that can open, not only shows how out of touch the ministers are, but the fact that they immediately, but wordlessly, rescinded the order, shows that they are happy to continue confusing the public just to save face.
  • As long as they don’t offer explanations or own up to their mistakes, “the blame is completely on” them, she writes.
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial praises Health Minister Yuli Edelstein for moving to appoint a coronavirus czar, but says it is not enough.
  • “However talented Edelstein’s project manager turns out to be, they won’t be able to reconnect voters with their elected representatives, who have completely lost touch with them,” it reads. “A million people out of work, bankrupt business owners and employees in collapsing industries look on in disbelief at the most bloated and satiated cabinet in the country’s history. Not a day goes by that doesn’t show the disconnect between the cabinet and the people, between the resolutions that it passes and the shameful declarations of its members.”

4. Double secret lockdown: The government’s shambolic management style is not just an abstract thing, but actively affecting people on a day to day basis, as in Ashdod, where a partial closure on some neighborhoods is lifted Thursday morning.

  • “Nobody bothered to update the municipality or residents if there was a decision to extend the order or not. The residents are confused and infection rates are still high,” tweets Ynet’s Matan Tzuri.
  • This comes at the same time as a report by Channel 12 news that the government is going to consider placing restrictions on nine more cities.
  • “Some of the mayors of cities on the list expressed anger that nobody spoke with them before the list was compiled, and that the Health Ministry has not published clear criteria for making decisions,” it reports.
  • Army Radio says that ministers are annoyed that the National Security Council has asked them to approve a new raft of limitations already. “This demand comes even though just a few days we passed dramatic restrictions on the economy. This shows that nobody here has any idea if these significant restrictions with such significant damage to the economy are even effective,” one unnamed minister is quoted saying.

5. Lockdown hoedown: Meanwhile, Israelis are annoyed over yet more reports that ministers can’t even keep to their own guidelines.

  • A day after Transportation Minister Miri Regev was called out for attending a road-opening ceremony while knowingly breaking guidelines on gatherings, Kan reports that Health Minister Yuli Edelstein of all people went straight from announcing those restrictions to a party for his wife that directly violated the ban.
  • According to Kan, Edelstein attended the event in honor of Irina Nevzlin at a private home alongside several dozen other people on Monday, soon after he had announced the new rules, which capped public gatherings at 20 attendees, but before they went into force.
  • Not grasping the importance of optics, Edelstein responds by claiming that the event was in the open, and so was allowed, and anyway the rules hadn’t gone into effect yet.
  • Speaking to Kan radio on Thursday morning, Regev defends her and other ministers’ behavior: “We’re all people, we all have families and friends and are doing exactly as we would expect the public to do,” she says.
  • “To come and describe us as people who don’t act according to Health Ministry guidelines — that’s not fair. It could be that there was some mess-up like this, so we are fixing it,” she adds.
  • In Walla, Amit Slonim dubs Edelstein the “minister of lost public trust,” and notes that nobody actually suffering through the crisis would be thinking of parties at a time like this.
  • Slonim writes that attendees were told to sign an agreement not to tell anyone about the shindig, which does not look great: “Of course, you know how it is from your own lives. You have a party at some fancy mansion in Herzliya Pituah, order a pricey production company to put on a crackling good time and avert your eyes as half the country does not know how they will make it through the month (or more accurately, knows it won’t make it through the month) and then pick up the phone and call a few dozen friends and demand that they keep it hush hush like we are talking about some Mossad operation in Tehran.”
  • Haaretz, which is part-owned by Edelstein’s father-in-law, devotes little attention to the scandal and notes up high that the new rules had yet to go into effect.

6. Botching the books: Ministers at least appear to be correct in their argument that policies are being proposed without solid data to back them up, amid a larger question over data gathering.

  • “It turns out that the data from the ministry’s thousands of tracings are dumped in a single, jumbled Excel spreadsheet file. The terms entered in its data fields are inconsistent,” Haaretz’s Meirav Arlozorov writes after asking for information about infection rates in pools.
  • “The ministry is drowning under tens of thousands of unsorted data points, which cannot be analyzed in order to draw conclusions. Why? Because the ministry’s health services division has been neglected for decades, and it has no advanced data systems that can be used to automatically retrieve data. Until the data system failures are addressed, Israel won’t be able to address the coronavirus crisis in an organized, systematic way.”
  • And that’s for the lucky few who can even get tested. Israel Hayom leads off its edition with a report claiming that testing services are failing to keep up with demand at old age homes: “Some of the delays are tied to a MyHeritage lab carrying out tests for old age homes, and some are connected to work by the Health Ministry and the long chain of reporting from the labs, to the ministry, to the Protecting Moms and Dads clearinghouse, to the old age homes themselves.”
  • Some help on that front may be on the way, thanks to Israeli firm AID Genomics, which claims to have found a way to run tests in an hour or less. “To process a planeload of passengers would take me 75 minutes, and I can push it down to an hour,” chief scientist Itzik Haviv tells ToI’s Nathan Jeffay.
  • And even if one gets a positive test result, it’s not always clear what that means. Amid confusion and reports that the ministry is looking to change or streamline what classifies as a “serious patient,” Haaretz’s Ido Efrati gives a good breakdown of what that label actually means.
  • “In Israel there is a lack of uniformity in diverse areas in regards to the coronavirus, from treatment to clinical guidelines. During the crisis, hospitals adopted various treatment protocols and medical definitions. The definitions of patient conditions appear in Health Ministry documents in various contexts, but the issue has not been assimilated and supervised by the Ministry,” he writes.
  • And then there’s the question of whether the number of seriously ill patients matters.
  • “Have they lost control of the pandemic? Yes,” Hadassah head Prof. Zeev Rotstein tells Army Radio. “It’s not the number on ventilators that is the deciding factor, but the number of infections a day. Now it’s going up — open your eyes.”
  • For a cherry on top, there are even some still questioning whether Israel is in a second wave of the virus. “This is the continuation of the first wave,” Rambam hospital head Dr. Michael Halbertal tells Army Radio. “The second wave will come in the winter.”
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