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Israel media review

For the sins you have committed: What the press is saying on September 25

As Israel enters tightened lockdown and virus deaths rise, Netanyahu blames politicians, undisciplined Israelis for the spike; pundits say the government must take responsibility

Hospital team members wearing protective clothes as they work at the Coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on September 23, 2020 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Hospital team members wearing protective clothes as they work at the Coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on September 23, 2020 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

1. For the sins committed against the healthcare system: Israel entered a tightened nationwide lockdown at 2 p.m. Friday, as the number of coronavirus cases continues to spiral, hitting over 7,500 on Thursday, after the country saw the death toll leap by 59 in a 24-hour period and the healthcare system struggles under the load.

  • The new lockdown measures — which will limit protests and prayer services, shut down all economic activity except for “essential” businesses and industries, close down the remaining schools and restrict public transportation — have sparked controversy over the economic toll and some of the rules.
  • It’s unclear when the lockdown will be fully eased.
  • “Choose life, it’s in your hands,” implores the front-page headline of Israel Hayom.
  • Former Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov chides Israelis for growing increasingly indifferent to the pandemic deaths and urges them to follow the rules. Taking a page out of the Yom Kippur liturgy, he preaches in a Yedioth Ahronoth column: It’s not our job “to make accounts of who will live and who will die, nor to make light of the premature deaths of people. We are facing Yom Kippur. None of us knows how many years left those who died of the coronavirus would have had. We must stop convincing ourselves that a 70-year-old, or 90-year-old, or 35-year-old with ‘preexisting conditions’  is to blame for their death and continue on. It could happen to us or our relatives. This is not the society we want to live in.”
  • The closure comes after a chaotic political decision-making process that seemed to only get worse on Friday, as the Knesset was held up in approving the measures, hours before the rules were planned to go into effect. Blue and White on Friday is also opposing Likud’s plan to declare a state of emergency to rein in the protests further.
  • Ben Gurion Airport is also set to be closed to departing flights, while incoming flights will continue uninterrupted. But Hebrew media reports on Friday say Israelis who bought tickets before the lockdown began will be permitted to leave the country.
  • Haaretz’s Allison Kaplan Sommer, in a tweet thread on Thursday, calls it “criminal” for the government to ban Israelis from leaving the country, noting that millions of immigrants have relatives abroad and would be prevented from jetting off to aid them should life-and-death emergencies arise.
  • “We have families abroad — parents, siblings, in some cases kids, who can get sick, die or have an emergency that we need to help them deal with. To decide to keep incoming flights going so Israelis can return home if needed, but trapping us here is just wrong,” she writes.

2. And for the sins of blaming others: Despite the upcoming Day of Atonement, there appears to be little soul-searching among Israel’s leaders over its handling of the pandemic.

  • Netanyahu, in a press conference Thursday, blames “populist politicians” for the rise in infections, including opposition leader Yair Lapid and Likud MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, and Israelis who failed to follow the social-distancing and mask-wearing rules.
  • “This is Netanyahu’s ‘I accuse you, citizens of Israel’ speech. The public is responsible for the coronavirus. The experts with their predictions are responsible for the coronavirus. The politicians…  are responsible for the coronavirus. And who was the prime minister here for the past six months? Perhaps he has a big role in this failure?” says Channel 12’s Keren Marciano in a widely watched tirade after the speech. The prime minister and his government are “exclusively” responsible for the crisis, she says.
  • Defense Minister Benny Gantz, speaking shortly before Netanyahu, admits the government failed in lifting the first lockdown too quickly and on contract tracing.

3. For the sins against democratic and religious freedoms: Much of the controversy with the new lockdown regulations has been centered on synagogues and demonstrations, both of which will be curtailed under the new rules.

  • Synagogues are to be closed from Friday, with exceptions made for next week’s Yom Kippur holiday, when they will be opened with health restrictions. Outdoor prayer services are permitted for up to 20 people, within 1 kilometer of home and with social distancing.
  • This appears to placate some ultra-Orthodox leaders, with senior Ashkenazi and Sephardic rabbis urging all to heed the rules and pray outdoors if possible. These include Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Rabbi Gershon Edelstein of the Lithuanian (non-Hasidic) stream, who write in an open letter: “Those who can pray outdoors, should. Follow the rules without exception and pray with a mask over your mouth and nose,” according to Channel 12.
  • But others, such as former health minister Yaakov Litzman, a member of the Ger Hasidic sect, comes out against the restrictions. Litzman quit the cabinet earlier this month over his objections to the government rules.
  • The restrictions on protests continue to be a hot button issue, with the claim that the prime minister tightened the nationwide closure merely to end the rallies against him still bandied about in the press.
  • Netanyahu on Thursday called the speculation “absurd.”
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, veteran columnist Nachum Barnea says Blue and White ministers present in the coronavirus cabinet are convinced the anti-Netanyahu demonstrations drove the decision to tighten the rules. “One of the assessments in Blue and White is that it’s not Netanyahu — he could live with the demonstrations continuing, and maybe could even gain politically from them. Maybe it’s his wife, maybe the scolding of his son, maybe it’s preparation ahead of the trial in December.”
  • The protesters should have packed up preemptively in light of the health crisis, writes Barnea, but the disparate group of some 12 organizations lack a single leader and couldn’t agree.
  • Haaretz, in its editorial, writes: “The amendment to the coronavirus law was designed to allow the government to block the demonstrations at Balfour [Netanyahu’s residence]. This is a dangerous amendment, which damages the democratic character of Israel.”
  • “A government that requests to block protests against it is inherently in a conflict of interest. The most important part of imposing the lockdown is that the public believes this difficult decision was made for substantive reasons, not political ones. When the closure is exploited to prevent demonstrations, there is a serious concern that it’s not a substantive decision, which could deepen the distrust and see the public not follow [the rules].”

4. For the sin of fake news: Kalman Liebskind, a right-wing journalist for the Maariv daily, has his own “J’accuse” on Friday — against his fellow right-wing media pundits that he says are shamelessly spreading “fake news” in the service of Netanyahu.

  • Four journalists identified with the right — Liebskind, Kan’s Akiva Novick, Makor Rishon editor Chagai Segal, and Besheva editor Emanuel Shilo — last week separately published pieces saying Netanyahu should resign in exchange for a plea bargain. Those columns were met with a wave of unsubstantiated claims that the four were briefed by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the columns were a coordinated attack to bring down the prime minister. The only problem, says Liebskind, is that’s a blatant lie.
  • That is the work of Netanyahu’s fan club of right-wing “journalists,” writes Liebskind, listing Shimon Riklin, radio host Erez Tadmor, Yaakov Bardugo, Eli Zipori and Avi Ratzon.
  • They are “weeds,” he writes in Maariv, in a fierce attack that is widely shared on Twitter.
  • “There is no problem with this admiration, of course. There is a problem with their work methods, however. None of them are really interested in facts, none of them bother to check information before publicizing it.”
  • “They are people who never wrote news articles, never collected information, never went through an archive, never spoke to a source, never put together a story. They were sucked into the vacuum created by the lack of right-wing journalists, and… skipped the stage of study and acquiring skills, and it was enough for them that someone gave them a microphone for them to look into a mirror and see the image of a journalist gazing back at them. They are people without journalistic knowledge. They are people without journalistic ethics. They are people without respect for journalism’s values. And for me, as someone who loves the profession and thinks it’s important, this is a very sad and discouraging state of affairs.”
  • “This is not the first time I’m writing, pained, about what’s happening on the fringes of right-wing journalism, but the situation is getting worse. One could say about segments of the right-wing media, with much sadness and paraphrasing [former MK] Yaakov Hazan’s famous remark: We wanted to raise a generation of journalists and instead we got a generation of charlatans.”
  • None of the right-wing journalists bothered to call him on the Mandelblit claim, he writes. And had the attorney general come a’calling, he stresses he certainly would have gone. “Because I’m a journalist.”

5. For the sins of not learning from the past: Israel is also set to mark the 47th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, with many pundits comparing the failure of leadership then, to now.

  • “Unlike its conduct 47 years ago, this time the people, and not only government, are acting arrogantly and irresponsibly. Instead of fighting the coronavirus, they are fighting brother against brother, tribe against tribe. Just like in the burning of the food stocks after Titus broke down the city gates [in ancient Jerusalem during the destruction of the Temple]. On this, the [Bible’s] Ha’azinu song (which will be read tomorrow) says: “A stubborn and crooked generation… a foolish and unwise nation,'” writes Israel Harel in Haaretz.
  • He adds: “‘Repent, O Israel,’ the cry of the prophet Hosea rings out from then and until today, ‘because you have failed in your sin.'”
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