Frolicking between the waves: 6 things to know for May 11
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Frolicking between the waves: 6 things to know for May 11

Israelis want to open up more and more, including beaches, but some believe the country should be worried about more than just how to work on its tan

Workers arrange beach chairs and umbrellas at the Tel Aviv beach on May 5, 2020 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Workers arrange beach chairs and umbrellas at the Tel Aviv beach on May 5, 2020 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

1. Always be opening: With the coronavirus infection rate dropping, the country has been increasingly finding its way outdoors for some fresh air, and now that it’s had a taste it wants MOAR.

  • On Sunday, ministers voted to stop requiring stays at quarantine hotels for returning travelers and to open up parks and public exercise equipment, though not playgrounds.
  • The Kan news outlet reports that the Health Ministry opposed the use of exercise equipment though minister Ofir Akunis, Gilad Erdan and Amir Ohana said that “if gyms are open, there is no reason not to open the equipment in parks,” clearly overlooking the difference between closely watched and sanitized equipment and pull up bars left outside for anyone to use with no oversight.
  • The Treasury is expected to push for the Health Ministry to allow the full opening of preschools in areas with low infection rates at a meeting on Wednesday, Walla news reports.

2. Find your beach: Channel 13 news reports that Erdan, who during the height of the crisis had pushed for stricter lockdowns, is now taking the opposite tack and also urging his fellow ministers to allow beaches to reopen.

  • “What’s the logic in keeping the restriction on being at the beach or swimming there,” he’s quoted writing on social media.
  • According to Israel Hayom, the city of Tel Aviv is also pushing authorities to okay the full reopening of its beaches.”The nation needs a little air,” it quotes Mayor Ron Huldai saying. “As we saw last weekend, the people are voting with their feet.”
  • Channel 12 news reports that the city does not want to open up the beaches for a free-for-all, but rather has a plan on how to social distance while soaking up rays or splashing in the surf: groups of six or under with at least two meters between groups; restrictions on how many people can use public bathrooms or showers; guards to take temperatures and to ensure tables, chairs and other equipment pieces are set up with sufficient distance; lowering water pressure in outdoor showers to keep viral mists from leaking out; and disinfecting teams everywhere.
  • As for who will facilitate and enforce all these guidelines, it does not say.

3. Second wave thought: Worries of a second wave of the pathogen are still here and there, though far from front and center.

  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, Nirit Rosenbloom writes that just because people can go out, doesn’t mean they should, accusing the government of throwing caution to the populist winds in opening up too quickly: “Once the restraints are off the responsibility returns for each of us. There’s nobody who will limit us, fine us and stop us anymore. If we don’t know how to safeguard ourselves, the coronavirus will return — and with it the lockdown.”
  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel urges the creation of a fixed team to deal with coronavirus issue and not an ad hoc group as has been doing it, and which he notes is made up mostly of physicians and not epidemiologists.
  • “The many advisory teams, which were assembled ad hoc, included excellent scientists in their fields, but some had no previous experience in the field of epidemiology,” he quotes Dov Schwartz, a former chief scientist of the Atomic Energy Commission and member of one ministry’s coronavirus team. “Every government ministry made sure to equip itself with its own experts, who were chosen primarily due to their publications in their original research fields and because their positions dovetailed with the ministry’s agenda. The forecasts were mistaken and proved far off from what actually occurred.”

4. Chimeric COVID-19: Channel 12’s Arad Nir notes that Israel actually has actually not fared very well when compared to its neighbors, most of whom have seen few cases and fewer deaths, and wants to know why the disease is so fickle.

  • While he notes that numbers from some Middle Eastern countries are hard to rely on, he adds that they could not cover up a major outbreak, and goes through a number of factors to figure out why it struck some places and not Jordan or Saudi Arabia, for instance — from genetics to demographic differences to culture. The bottom line, though, is that he admits that nobody really knows anything.
  • “In an era when every morsel of information speeds around the globe in an instant, we know more about the virus and the disease it causes than any doctors or researchers knew about any disease in this time frame in the past. But much of the information is based on partial data that leads to incorrect assumptions.”
  • The New York Times looks at another factor that may help, being battle-hardened or having had to deal with diversity. While the article is about Europe, and places in the formerly Communist east or recently war-torn Balkans that have fared better than Italy et al, it could easily have been written about Israel and the rest of the Middle East.
  • “I was a kid, I remember playing soccer and seeing mortars falling out of the sky,” one Croat who could have also been a Sderot resident is quoted saying. “People today are afraid, and the discipline we all learned helps us get in line and creates some sort of forced unity.”
  • The story notes that an Oxford-created stringency scale from 0-100 (100 being most stringent) shows Eastern European countries locked down better than those in the West. On the scale, Croatia at its height was 97.35. Israel at its height was only slightly lower, at 96.03.
  • According to the chart Israel is currently at 82.93, swiftly approaching the US’s paltry 71.58.

5. Watch your right flank: Also apparently believing the virus to no longer be priority number 1 is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Kan reports left a ministerial meeting on lifting restrictions early, saying “I have a government to put together.”

  • Indeed there is still the doling out of ministerial posts, which the media is watching with the excitement of a horse race and not the bureaucratic horse-trading it actually is. And there is also right-wing Yamina’s decision to split toward the opposition.
  • Pressure on the parties to kiss and make up is overt in right-wing media, perhaps nowhere more so than Israel Hayom, which normally toes the Likud leader’s line but on Monday runs as its main headline a quote accusing Netanyahu of “pushing out the national religious.”
  • “If Yamina stays out, Netanyahu will tussle with the base,” reads the headline of a Mati Tuchfeld column that feels more like a threat than an analysis.
  • The national religious Srugim website reports that Education Minister Rafi Peretz is under pressure to leave Yamina leader Naftali Bennett behind and join the government on his own.
  • “So that Rabbi Rafi can be a minister, I am saying something that is maybe difficult, but he needs to break up the Yamina alliance,” Jerusalem deputy mayor Hagit Moshe, a member of Peretz’s Jewish Home faction, is quoted saying.
  • It reports that Peretz refused to respond to the suggestions and the party has attempted to present a unified front.
  • Channel 12 news reports that party members at a faction meeting agreed to back the move to the opposition and issued a threat to Netanyahu to watch his back from the right as the party attempts to position itself as the real right wing.

6. Putting annex on the line: The pushing off of the swearing-in is attributed by most media sources to the visit of Mike Pompeo on Wednesday.

  • Army Radio notes that Pompeo’s visit may give Netanyahu an extra push toward annexation, which he can possibly parlay into a way to convince Yamina to join his merry band of biblical revanchists.
  • Maariv, on the other hand, claims that Pompeo is actually coming to warn Netanyahu away from annexation, quoting “analysts” who supposedly say that.
  • “Pompeo has been told that President Donald Trump is against the annexation decision as a unilateral Israeli move.”
  • The only name the story puts behind the idea is conservative pundit Daniel Pipes, who recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times warning that annexation would do more harm than good and that “Trump could well erupt in fury at Israel for unilaterally taking that step.”
  • Uncharacteristically, the right-wing Israel National News site runs a column against annexation, kind of: “Does Israel even have the practical ability, logistically, to enforce its laws as the sovereign over the West Bank,” asks think tanker Yuval Cohen, noting lawlessness in parts of the country, like an army base in southern Israel that has been wracked by break-ins. “You want sovereignty in the West Bank? Let’s talk first about sovereignty in Tzeelim.”
  • Meanwhile, Haaretz’s Gideon Levy pens a column that uncharacteristically backs annexation, kind of, at least as a spark to recognize the reality of the occupation of the West Bank or increase pressure on Israel.
  • “It is shaping up as the only way out of the deadlock, the only possible shake-up that could end this status quo of despair we’ve gotten stuck in, which can no longer lead anywhere good,” he writes, before sprinkling in some Nazi imagery for good measure. “Now Israel will come along and, with the encouragement of the well­­-known peacemaker in Washington, awaken this reality from its sleep: Annexation. Anschluss. In the hills and in the valleys, in Area C and in the end in the entire West Bank.”
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