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Israel media review

Dying to get together: What the press is saying on October 6

Another lockdown, another minister facing heavy heat from an indignant media over the government’s slack attitude toward its own rules; and who can forget the ultra-Orthodox?

Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend the funeral of Pittsburgh Rebbe Mordechai Leifer in the city of Ashdod on October 5, 2020. (Photo by Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend the funeral of Pittsburgh Rebbe Mordechai Leifer in the city of Ashdod on October 5, 2020. (Photo by Flash90)

1. Who by chutzpah: Not for the first time, and likely not for the last, the media conversation in Israel is revolving around those large swaths of the population who are not keeping the lockdown rules.

  • We’ll start off with an oldie-but-goody, politicians, specifically one Gila Gamliel, who is still holding onto her Environmental Protection Ministry job despite cries to the heavens and to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fire her.
  • The story, broken by Haaretz early Monday afternoon, is far and away the number one item dominating the news agenda, leading off most papers and news reports, with the exception of Israel Hayom.
  • “Shame on you all,” reads the massive one word (in Hebrew) headline on the cover of Yedioth Ahronoth, with a picture of Gamliel.
  • The paper, which makes no bones about wanting to see her canned, brings out its big guns, i.e., relatives of victims of the disease who are fuming mad at the lack of care Gamliel reportedly showed in allegedly traveling to Tiberias, praying inside a synagogue and possibly trying to cover it up after she herself came down with the disease.
  • “What she did is chutzpah. She’s simply criminal, this is an act of sabotage. Causing harm to humanity while knowing full well that you can infect others and possibly cause their deaths,” says Piki Flexer-Barak, who lost her husband to COVID-19. “If she does not know what her actions can cause, she does not need to be a minister or have any public role.”
  • Chutzpah also features prominently in a column by Haaretz’s Yossi Verter: “The smell wafting from the affair… is the reek of profound chutzpah, and to use a popular expression: peeing from the diving board. Chutzpah has been the minister’s middle name for a long time, although until now it was confined ‘only’ to her public and political activity. … Even her apology contains tons of chutzpah, fabrications and pathetic lies.”
  • Science Minister Izhar Shay from the Blue and White party tells Kan radio that if the probe finds she was in the wrong, “these are things that are very severe and she would be correct to take responsibility herself and quit without waiting to be told what to do.”
  • Speaking to the same station, though, Likud MK Shlomo Karhi says that nobody should be taking examples from politicians: “When someone wants to protect their lives, they don’t need to look at what anyone else is doing.”
  • Israel Hayom doesn’t ignore the story altogether, but plays it lower than most other outlets. In a column for the paper, health reporter Ran Reznick lumps Gamliel in with Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy (who has already been punished for less serious infractions) and the ultra-Orthodox (more on them later.)
  • That’s not to say he goes easy on them, though. “When elected officials and heads of state flagrantly ignore these rules, they do so at a heavy cost in terms of human lives. In cases in which elected officials and public leaders do wrong, the entire country is punished because the spread of the virus is expedited,” he writes.

2. Two wrongs make a government: Many pundits in the press are less than pollyanna-ish on the prospects of Netanyahu actually taking action against Gamliel, noting the hypocrisy of doing so.

  • “In a world in which an indicted prime minister remains in office, a minister will be fired over a visit to Tiberias?” reads a headline in Walla news.
  • “The expectation that she will truly take a stand on principles that are different from those shown by the rest of her colleagues around the cabinet table is just too much. Why should she be a sucker. Better to wait for someone else to take a turn as the sucker,” writes Tal Shalev.
  • Yedioth’s Sima Kadmon notes that Netanyahu himself broke the rules when he hosted his son for Passover. “This is the reason the prime minister is not rushing to punish Gamliel. What should he say, that he’s punishing her for something he did himself? That he should censure her when just two weeks ago two of his advisers broke quarantine? … Why should he get tangled up with Gamliel, who could just open her mouth and worsen the crisis?”
  • Legal analyst and anti-government activist Yuval Yaoz writes in ToI sister site Zman Yisrael that “the public cannot put its faith in a government whose members do not follow the decrees they place on the public. Perhaps these instructions have a legal and judicial validity, but they are morally void.”
  • Similarly, Haaretz’s lead editorial places blame on Netanyahu for being unable to act to actually enforce the lockdown when it comes to allies he depends on. “Netanyahu’s weakness as a leader during a time of crisis has been revealed time and again. He’s in a political bind with the ultra-Orthodox, since without their support, he would have to give up his job as prime minister; consequently, he’s incapable of forcing them to obey the regulations,” the editorial reads. “He’s dependent on his closest aides, some of whom run his digital incitement machine against his political rivals. And he has trouble asking a minister like Gamliel to resign, because how could he ask her to do what he himself, despite having been indicted in three criminal cases, refuses to do?”

3. Cops and worshipers: According to Channel 12 news, some 20 infections over the last days were traced to the synagogue that Gamliel prayed in, which it extrapolates to mean that there were more than 20 people inside, against guidelines. It’s not clear where the info comes from.

  • Israel Hayom reports that Tiberias says only 11 infections were traced to the synagogue. One of those sick people tells the paper, though, that there were 40 people inside, 25 men and 15 women, well beyond what was allowed in the relatively small space.
  • However, Ynet reports Tuesday that the city says only 23 people were there, which it reports that the city determines to mean that they were keeping the rules, though it’s not clear how.
  • While Gamliel apologized, she also claimed she did nothing wrong, since she has an apartment in Tiberias and those with the money for multiple residences are allowed to move between houses, and agreed to pay a fine.
  • In fact, according to reports, the apartment is not hers, but belongs to her in-laws. It is registered under her husband’s name, though.
  • Gamliel may now be facing criminal charges, with several news outlets reporting that a probe into her actions has been carried out by police and it’s now up to the attorney general to decide what to do.
  • The head of the police investigations division Roee Waldman tells Army Radio that “we’ll publish the findings today. We are checking the materials on Gila Gamliel’s behavior and if needed we’ll conduct an interrogation.”
  • “If it emerges that she gave false testimony during the investigation, it’s a problem,” an anonymous police source tells the Walla news site Monday.
    They may have some more investigating to do as well. Former Tiberias mayor Ron Cobi tells Army Radio that “there was another senior minister here over Yom Kippur. These people are godless.”
  • Cobi is apparently referring to arch-nemesis Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who says in a tweet that “there’s a liar going around to journalists libeling me that I prayed in a synagogue in Tiberias on Yom Kippur. This liar said that to four journalists already in an attempt to libel me. On Yom Kippur I prayed in an open space next to my home in Jerusalem. Don’t fall for this liar’s garbage.”

4. Rebbe rabble rebels: And then there are the ultra-Orthodox, whose lack of conformity with virus rules is still fascinating the press, no doubt helped by images of thousands of people in shtreimels crowding around an Ashdod bier. Another funeral attended by masses of ultra-Orthodox overnight in Jerusalem also gets wide coverage (though not as wide as the first) and just adds to the scrum.

  • Pictures of the Ashdod funeral grace the covers of both Israel Hayom and Haaretz, and scenes from there were a constant presence on television news broadcasts throughout the day.
  • In Israel Hayom, the picture accompanies the headline “Getting further from lightening,” referring to the roll back of restrictions, seemingly telegraphing the idea that the ultra-Orthodox are the reason that Israel will be stuck in a lockdown for some time to come. (The stance would be an interesting one for a paper in which a columnist admitted days ago that its editorial policy is to treat the ultra-Orthodox with kid gloves.)
  • “Most ultra-Orthodox are trying hard and keeping the rules, but to those communities who have decided to kind of fudge it (and it’s because of them that infections in the Haredi street are still not dropping), I say: We’re in the same boat, for better or worse, please don’t drill a hole in it,” writes Bnei Brak resident Hanany Bleich in the paper.
  • Kan reports that at a cabinet meeting on rolling back the lockdown Monday, acting police chief Motti Cohen told ministers that the ultra-Orthodox could not be expected to adhere to guidelines, predicting a tough fight ahead on Saturday, which will see the rowdy holiday of Simhat Torah.
  • “Haredi autonomy has won,” Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes. “A sad victory, but a clear one. At the start of the outbreak, over two precious and tragic weeks passed before the ultra-Orthodox agreed to even a partial lockdown.”
  • He adds that in two weeks, when yeshivas return to regular sessions, there won’t be anyone able to stop them.
  • ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur points out that not all ultra-Orthodox are the same when it comes to keeping virus rules, causing a massive rift in the wider community:
  • “There is another group troubled and frustrated by Haredi behavior: the Haredim themselves, whose acknowledgment of their community’s failures to cope with the pandemic, and the accompanying frustration and despair, now dominate their media and politics. Accusations of betrayal course through the community’s internal debates.”
  • And he writes that it does not help matters that Haredim are so visible, making it easy to catch each other out, or give the public a scapegoat, as they see it.
  • “When you have a government that isn’t functioning, that’s pitting Israelis against one another, and when [non-Haredi journalists] want to tell a story about an entire country that’s collapsed in the last seven months, about a leadership that fled to its own private struggles, leaving the rest of the nation to bleed out — then you suddenly find the Haredim,” he quotes Mishpacha magazine editor Yossi Elituv telling Channel 12 news.

5. Orthodoxxed: That fear of over-visibility is a central aspect to a Haaretz report on a secret deal between the cops and ultra-Orthodox, allowing them to hold celebratory Sukkot events so long as they keep things hush-hush and not let footage of the events leak out.

  • According to the report, the secret deal explains why cops did not intervene despite being meters away from huge gatherings among ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood. The Hasidic sects meanwhile, have been having large parties and working to keep pictures from getting out, according to the report.
  • “Every Hasidic sect placed security guards at the entrances to check who enters,” a Hasidic source tells the paper. “The moment they see someone who is not connected to us they immediately make sure to throw them out. Of course there’s a total ban against documenting what goes on inside.”
  • The police’s Waldman, mentioned above, tells Army Radio that there is no such deal.
  • Even if there is, not letting pictures get out is easier said than done. On Monday night, Channel 12 published videos showing a large street party in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Shaarei Hesed, using drone footage, apparently sponsored by the city. By the time a Times of Israel reporter got down there, the event had been shut down.
  • The channel also showed video from Hanan Ben Ari concert in the northern city of Karmiel, with dozens of attendees at least, also apparently sponsored by the city, which is not particularly ultra-Orthodox.
  • But Ynet publishes video from just after, that shows Ben Ari shutting down the show because of the crowds after a single song.
  • “What’s happening here unfortunately is something that is not allowed legally or according to Health Ministry guidelines. I beg forgiveness,” he says before bounding off stage.
  • Ultra-Orthodox journalist Israel Frey, who has made a cottage industry on Twitter of exposing mass Haredi gatherings, also points out that it’s not just the black hats, publishing a video from inside a synagogue with dozens of people performing a Sukkot rite with no social distancing at all.
  • “This random video does not come from the heart of Haredi areas, but is as ‘lite’ as they come,” he writes, referring to the non-ultra aspect of the Orthodox setting.
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