Israel media review

Feint by number: What the press is saying about hazy math and home demo friction

Reports question the Health Ministry’s counting skills, and the media jumps on hints of frayed ties between the US and Israel, and Bennett and Lapid

One of Sheba's innovation projects: the "hospital room of the future," built in the Israel Center for Medical Simulation at Sheba Medical Center (courtesy of Sheba Medical Center)
Illustrative: A dummy in a hospital bed meant to show new innovations at Sheba Medical Center (courtesy Sheba Medical Center)

1. Nobody to count on: The fact that the number of coronavirus cases is rising appears to be indisputable. But some are beginning to cast doubt on some of the Health Ministry’s other statistical claims.

  • A report in Yedioth Ahronoth accuses the Health Ministry of “inflating” the number of people hospitalized in serious condition, after a reporter at the paper called around to all of Israel’s hospitals and did the math himself, coming up with 27 patients, well below the 46 advertised by the ministry.
  • Not that Yedioth’s numbers are necessarily the end of the story. Channel 12, which was seemingly tipped off by the same person to pursue the same lead, also called around and found 32 seriously ill. Bottom line, neither number is near 46.
  • The Health Ministry’s immediate reaction was to fight back, sending a statement to all journalists accusing the Yedioth reporter of not doing his homework and “misleading the public.”
  • “In order to avoid similar mistakes… it is recommended [that news outlets] rely on official data that has been thoroughly reviewed by the Health Ministry,” it added.
  • A few hours later, the Ministry tried the unique tactic of both changing the claim it was making about the number of seriously ill, and sending out its top dog, director general Chezy Levy, to defend its statistics gathering in a live interview on Channel 12 news.
  • “All day you’re telling us we are wrong, and then a second before the broadcast, you drop it from 46 to 37,” anchor Danny Kushmaro demands of Levy in the interview. “Why did you fix it.”
  • Save a thought for poor Levy, who is leaving the post on Sunday, but is apparently already being kept out of the loop. “Maybe some of the wounded — wounded, pssh — maybe some of the seriously ill got better, that’s possible too,” answers a clearly exasperated Levy, indicating that he knows as much about the change in numbers as Yossi Q Public does.
  • By Friday morning, Yedioth’s top front page story is devoted to giving itself a pat on the back, with a headline crowing over “The Health Ministry’s zig-zag.”
  • Speaking to Army Radio, the head internist at Hadassah Ein Keren, Dr. Dror Mevorach, says that his hospital had no seriously ill patients, but the ministry still listed it as having one, a patient who had been hospitalized in April. But he’s still willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • “It’s not like the Health Ministry was trying to cheat. It’s just a way of measuring the sick. We knew the whole time that there were really 10 fewer seriously ill and they were counting old patients,” he says.
  • As for seven of the nine missing seriously ill, Walla reports that “two of them died, three got better, one was released to a geriatric center and one did not improve but was released to community care at the request of the family.”
  • The affair is not the first this week in which the ministry has gotten in trouble for suspected number wrangling. After the ministry released a study at the start of the week claiming that the Pfizer vaccine was only 64 percent effective against the Delta variant, but 93% effective at stopping serious cases, some asked how reliable the study was.
  • The New York Times notes that other studies of vaccines use unvaccinated controls to filter out outside influences on the study: “For its new study, Israel’s Ministry of Health did not go to such great lengths to rule out other factors.”
  • US infectious diseases idol Anthony Fauci is also unimpressed. Reports CNN: “While ‘the Israelis know what they’re doing,’ the data is sparse, Fauci said, adding that the circumstances of the reported drop in efficacy are unclear.”
  • Not everybody is circumspect. Israel Hayom runs a full-page explainer on the Delta variant and the ministry study, authored by two top medical experts. While they cite the ministry’s data, they do not mention the existence of any doubts or questions about those figures.

2. Demolition mad: What Israel Hayom is suspicious of is all this talk of reinvigorated ties between the US and Israel, led by new governments who have done away with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former US president Donald Trump.

  • While condemnation from the US regarding the demolition of the home of a terror suspect is given wide coverage by most outlets, Israel Hayom goes above and beyond, calling it “the first confrontation” and “first crack” with the US, in its two largest headlines.
  • Defending the practice of home demolitions, Israel Hayom columnist Nadav Shragai does his best Noam Chomsky impression, going whole hog in decrying the actions of the US military and the War on Terror. “US Forces left in their wake thousands, if not tens of thousands, of civilians killed in war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locales,” he writes. “Many of them were innocent. Thousands of ‘non-involved’ have been killed in US actions. Thousands of families have become bereaved, and this is in response to the ‘actions of lone terrorists.’”
  • In ToI, Jacob Magid notes that a later statement from US State Department spokesman Ned Price emphasizes the priority the US is placing on the matter, which “appeared to reflect a shift from previous administrations, which had not made as large an issue out of Israeli home demolitions.”
  • Journalist Marian Houk calls the US condemnation “too late, and way too little” on Twitter. But a statement from right-wing Im Tirtzu carried by Channel 12 would beg to differ, with the group calling on the army to demolish the homes before families can even file a court petition.
  • In Haaretz, Alon Pinkas looks at another looming point of contention between Israel and the US: China. “The more rancorous the US-Chinese rivalry becomes, the longer it persists and the broader the areas it extends to – not to mention an implausible (but not beyond imagination) escalation in the Pacific Rim – the more likely it is that Israel may find itself having to choose a side,” he writes. “That side will undoubtedly be the United States, almost regardless of whether it is right or wrong on any particular issue. Despite that, it will test Israel’s diplomatic independence and room for maneuver.”

3. A government that works (for Bennett): Channel 13, meanwhile, reports on “cracks” in the Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid leadership structure, alleging that the demolition caught Lapid, the foreign minister, off guard.

  • Lapid’s office reached out to Bennett’s shortly after the demolition and asked why it hadn’t been updated, saying the Foreign Ministry could have prepared and attempted to soften criticism from the US, according to the network. Army Radio reports that senior Israeli officials, Lapid included, were unhappy with the timing of the action, with a bipartisan Congressional delegation in town.
  • But according to Haaretz’s Yossi Verter, things inside the new government (and inside Bennett’s head) are going swimmingly. “Sometimes, Bennett said in a private conversation, he’s more committed to his left-wing partners than they are to themselves. If they concede on something, he sits and thinks – maybe it’s too much, maybe it will put them in a corner. So he takes a step back so it won’t look like he defeated them. He tells people: It’s amazing how well we’re working together. Every problem is immediately solved with a phone call. Sure, some things aren’t so smooth, but it’s always like that.”
  • In fact, Bennett appears to be spreading the love to everyone. A tweet from media watchdog Seventh Eye points out that three of Israeli media’s top columnists have pieces Friday in which the headline or lede mentions Bennett’s satisfaction.
  • Who wouldn’t be happy, with the former prime minister having your back, or at least not wishing death upon you and your foreign minister. When a heckler at a Likud event called out that “Bennett and Lapid need to die,” Netanyahu shot him down, earning a surprising amount of coverage for it: “Either you’re a plant, and you did your job, or you’re not a plant and you are an idiot… That’s not happening. That’s unacceptable,” he quipped.
  • Perhaps coverage is a strong word. On Channel 12’s news website for instance, the story, which comes complete with a clickbait headline (“here’s what Netanyahu responded”), takes up all of two paragraphs. That’s enough room, though, for the author to manage to call the heckler’s comments “out of line,” “dangerous,” “inciteful,” and “out of line” again.

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