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Israel media review

Eat and drink, for tomorrow we get infected: 5 things to know for June 21

As coronavirus cases rise, a seemingly official report warns of more danger, but intra-agency squabbles lay bare the government’s shambolic approach to the crisis

A man checks the temperature of a customer at the entrance to the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on June 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A man checks the temperature of a customer at the entrance to the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on June 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. The 300: The coronavirus is sitting pretty atop the news agenda as Israel welcomes the summer and struggles to cope with rising infection rates.

  • On Saturday, the Health Ministry published numbers showing 294 new cases over the past day, after a weekend that saw daily tolls break the 300 mark.
  • “Second wave?” asks a top headline on Channel 13 news’s website, still unsure if a jump from a few dozen virus cases a day to around 300 constitutes a second coming of the coronavirus.
  • The Kan news site reports that several hospitals have been ordered to reopen their coronavirus wards, in the latest sign of the return of the disease.
  • According to Haaretz, the recent rise in infections has caused Cyprus and Montenegro to downgrade Israel’s rating in terms of letting in tourists from there, and other countries that had hoped to welcome Israeli visitors may follow suit.
  • The Ynet news site reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat are set to hold a meeting with ministry heads to mull steps to help get the virus to slow its roll, including upping the NIS 200 ($57) fine for being caught maskless, among other possible steps.
  • “They are looking to step up enforcement considerably and to improve the contact tracing system. Two days ago, they decided to expand the epidemiological investigations team with 300 more investigators,” the site reports.
  • But it adds that “Netanyahu does not intend, at this stage, to return to policies of a full lockdown. He intends at first to step up enforcement of guidelines, with an emphasis on masks, which he terms a ‘mini lockdown.’”

2. Have your people ignore my people: Army Radio reports on a seemingly official report from the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center that warns that Israel is already knee-deep in wave 2.0, and that it’s shaping up to be worse than the first.

  • “Experts at the center estimate that if steps are not taken immediately and eased restrictions aren’t rethought, the pace of infection in Israel could reach 1,000 cases a day within a month,” reports the station.
  • Writing for Channel 12, Prof. Ron Balicer says he “usually avoids using projected numbers, as the report does. At the end of the day, everything is in our hands and if we act according to the guidelines in the report, most of which I very much agree with, the scary predictions won’t come true.”
  • The body that released the report operates under the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate in cooperation with the Health Ministry. But Channel 13 news notes that the Health Ministry says it does not back the figures used in the report “and it’s unclear who is behind them.”
  • “A report came out without anyone signing onto it — and every media outlet is relying on what it says,” the channel quotes saying Hagai Levine, the head of the association of public health doctors.
  • “There are broad factual errors in the report. There’s no link between the figures and the conclusions,” Levine tells Kan.
  • On Twitter, Maariv and FM103 reporter Tal Lev Ram writes that the Health Ministry refusing to accept the MI’s work is akin to a company refusing to accept free expert help as a “cherry on top.”
  • “Instead of managing, overseeing, appointing a manager from the ministry to be embedded with the professionals, they come with complaints about the Center having too much independence. Amazing,” he tweets.

3. 100 here, 1,000 there: Walla news points out that it’s not like the Health Ministry or any state bodies at all have been on the ball with their stats, with three different agencies putting out different numbers at different times and refusing to clarify matters for journalists, leaving the public to rely on leaked material rather than official, trackable numbers.

  • It notes that while the Health Ministry refuses to fully back the numbers from the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center, its spokesperson will still leak the center’s reports and tallies to journalists, “forcing the public to deal with a barrage of numbers and analyses distributed via unofficial channels.”
  • “Is it possible that during a crisis of historic proportions like this, as Health Ministry officials themselves have termed it, the figures won’t be published in an ordered and transparent way?” asks Walla writer Boaz Efrat.
  • (The problem may now be solved with the ministry finally on Thursday unveiling a website that is set to publish new figures at predetermined times each day, though those figures as well don’t always add up.)
  • Unsurprisingly, there is plenty of criticism of the government in general for failing to manage the crisis effectively.
  • “This is not the fault of the public (mostly). This is on the government,” writes Nadav Eyal in a front page column for Yedioth Ahronoth. “What exactly have they been doing for the last month and a half? You would have expected them to put together a project with a major national scope, one that could turn Israel into a world leader in the fight against the coronavirus and cleanse it of the disease, like New Zealand.”
  • Haaretz in its lead editorial writes that the Coronavirus Center report “only underscores the leadership’s mishandling of the crisis,” and accuses the government of bungling decisions and using fines to make up for lost tax shekels rather than to effect change in public behavior intended to make people safer.
  • “Not only did the coronavirus government fail to get the economy back on track, it also failed to do what was needed to prevent a second wave of infections,” it reads. “That’s how things are when the prime minister is busy with incitement against the judicial system, infighting within the coalition and hallucinations about annexation.”

4. The Israeli version of “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters. Okay?”: Channel’s 12’s Rina Matsliah causes quite the hubbub on her “Meet The Press” show when she claims that Netanyahu supporters have no problem telling the media that “even if he were to rape my daughter, I’d vote for him.”

  • So extreme is the remark that it manages to throw Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz’s adviser Ronen Tzur, who had no problem working for alleged serial pedophile Malka Leifer’s family, off guard. “Rina, I think that’s an exaggeration,” he responds.
  • At the end of the show, Matsliah sort of apologizes, saying, “it’s possible that the [example] I gave was not very good.”
  • But nonetheless, she is quickly reprimanded, with her network issuing a statement condemning the remark and summoning her to the principal’s office the next day.
  • Haaretz’s Itai Stern points  out that she was likely referring to an interview author Etgar Keret gave years ago in which he recalled speaking to a cabdriver and asking why he was so adamant about voting for Netanyahu. “Listen, if Bibi were to break into my house through the window in the middle of the night and rape my daughter, I’d still vote for Bibi.” While clearly vulgar, and told second and, the remark was not the same as “Bibi supporters are being interviewed and are saying…” as Matsliah put it.
  • But in addition to resurrecting the 2016 Etgar Keret interview, Matsliah’s remarks also lead those backing her to dig up several other comments made by Netanyahu supporters, including one from Dikla Cohen who tweeted last year, “Because of this I respond as a woman: Even if Bibi were to rape me in a dark alley, I’ll vote for him. Capisce?”
  • Within hours of the remark, Likud issues a statement calling for Matsliah’s firing. “Wtf?!?!? Did you hear what Rina Matsliah said about right-wing voters now on the Al Jazeera Channel 12?!?! ??! ?? All right-wing voters should demand her dismissal !!!!” tweeted the prime minister’s son Yair in no uncertain terms.

5. Will they, won’t they: Channel 13 reports that the White House will  hold a “decisive” meeting this week on whether to approve Netanyahu’s annexation plans.

  • Citing unnamed American and Israeli sources, the network’s Barak Ravid says US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman will fly to Washington for the pivotal meeting, which is scheduled for Monday or Tuesday, and which is also to be attended by Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law; US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; and US National Security Adviser Richard O’Brien. Trump’s peace process envoy Avi Berkowitz was set to head to Israel this week for meetings on the Trump proposal, but canceled his trip in order to participate in the White House sit-down, the TV report adds.
  • Trump himself is “likely” to pop in for the session, the report says, since “he’s the one who will ultimately decide” on whether to approve Israeli annexation, and if so on what scale.
  • In a Washington Post op-ed ahead of the fateful decision, Israel’s envoy to the US, Ron Dermer writes that the Israeli annexation plan will help, not hurt, the prospects of peace with the Palestinians, by convincing them to abandon their “illusion” of ending the Jewish state project and agree to a true two-state solution. Dermer writes that the international community’s policies have inadvertently helped the Palestinians foster false hopes of one day overthrowing Israel.
  • The op-ed represented a rare attempt by the Netanyahu government to publicly try and explain the decision to move forward with the controversial policy. Netanyahu’s envoy also does not shy away from defining what is being offered to the Palestinians as a state. But that’s when he’s speaking in English, and in Hebrew it’s another story. The pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom translates Dermer as having written that the Trump plan “will open the door to a solution for both peoples” when he actually wrote “it will open the door to a realistic two-state solution.”
  • “So who really is disrespecting Netanyahu voters,” Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer responds sarcastically to a tweet calling out Israel Hayom for the translation gaffe.
  • In Zman Yisrael, Shalom Yerushalmi writes that Defense Minister Benny Gantz might be willing to back Netanyahu’s annexation plans, but not if the premier backs out on a major clause of the coalition deal that requires the passing of a two-year budget instead of a one-year budget. Netanyahu has been pushing for the latter in what some suspect is part of an effort to drag the country to another election in a year from now, which the far less popular Gantz apparently wants to avoid.
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