Israel media review

Getting past 2,000: What the press is saying on October 13

Israel marks another wretched fatality milestone with the last one still fresh, and everyone is bickering over opening back up despite not yet meeting the daily case threshold

Candles placed by activists from the "Darkeinu" movement in memory of Israel's coronavirus victims, near the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem on October 12, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Candles placed by activists from the "Darkeinu" movement in memory of Israel's coronavirus victims, near the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem on October 12, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Too soon: Israel passed 2,000 COVID-19 deaths on Monday, a brutal milestone made all the more woeful by the fact that it’s been barely a month since it hit the first grim landmark of 1,000 deaths.

  • The majority of fatalities — some 1,650 of those who died — were over the age of 70, according to Health Ministry figures. One child under the age of 9 and three between the age of 10 and 19 died as a result of COVID-19. As my colleagues at ToI note, “At the start of the pandemic, each death was mourned nationally and stories were told. However, as the death toll has mounted in recent months, the majority of fatalities have gone publicly unmarked.”
  • The Darkeinu group, which had been projecting a running tally on a wall outside the Prime Minister’s Residence (and which it says was shut down by the city a day ago), switches tactics, instead placing 2,016 candles, the number of dead as of Monday night, around Paris Square.
  • While the 1,000 death mark was accompanied by nearly every major outlet running pieces trying to put faces and stories behind the deaths, this time the effort is more modest, which may itself be a sign of the lamentably quick pace at which the death toll has mounted.
  • Haaretz does have a piece looking at some of the deaths, including Ofer Aderet homing in on widely respected entomologist Dr. Amnon Freidberg, a world-renowned expert on flies.
  • “Hundreds of species of flies were identified based on his work. He had 99 species and 3 genera named after him, a sign of the great respect that other scientists had for him. On Saturday, the day of the Simhat Torah holiday, Freidberg joined the long and growing list of Israelis from all backgrounds who succumbed to COVID-19,” he writes.
  • Elsewhere, though, the 2,000 figure is barely mentioned. Neither Israel Hayom nor Yedioth Ahronoth notes the milestone.
  • Yedioth does put author Yehoshua Kenaz, who died Monday of COVID-19, prominently on its front page, along with the mother of singer Corinne Allal, who also succumbed to the disease.
  • “Yehoshua Kenaz was one of the pillars of what is called the generation of the state, the generation of the writers of the state,” writes A.B. Yehoshua in one of several appreciations for him. “He managed to rise above the clashes of Israeli society and describe them through the eyes of a unit in training, the war generation,” he adds, describing his most well-known book “Infiltration.”
  • Channel 12 reports on Rahat resident Noha Abu Sayyam, 21 (or 22 according to some reports), who died of the disease on October 8 despite having no underlying medical issues.
  • The channel reports that Noha first came to the hospital over a month ago, 7 months pregnant and having breathing trouble. A C-section delivered the baby successfully.
  • “Noha never managed to see the baby and since the surgery, over 30 days, the medical team fought for her life,” the station reports.
  • Israel Hayom’s main story on the matter is essentially a breakdown of statistics age by age. It also includes a small sidebar about Michael Badoah, 68, who died of the disease late last month.
  • “All Yom Kippur I was with him, fasting, crying and praying for a miracle,” his widow Yardena says, recalling the day before his death. “They brought me home in an ambulance. I was crushed.”

2. Out-classed: Israel Hayom’s placement of the story, on page 8 behind packages about pushes to open schools back up, get retailers’ doors open, and political bickering, is as good an allegory as any for the state of the nation.

  • “Slow, but safe. Easements on the table,” reads the paper’s top front-page headline, previewing a cabinet meeting at which ministers are expected to hash out a possible exit plan.
  • “There’s consensus among all decision-makers on the professional level that this time the process needs to be carried out slowly and cautiously. But there’s an argument between ministers and bureaucrats from the health, education and finance ministries about how measured it must be,” reports the tabloid.
  • Kan reports that while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to wait until new infections fall below 2,000 a day before allowing preschools to open, other ministers have raised their own proposals, like allowing private daycares. It also notes that senior Health Ministry official Sharon Elrai-Price said that preschools and the rest will only start to open when the country falls below 2,000 daily cases.
  • Noting that her bosses Itamar Grotto and Health Ministry head Chezy Levy said the schools would open Sunday, Elrai-Price is quoted saying that they meant the numbers were expected to reach that threshold then.
  • Not everyone buys it. “Health Ministry officials are contradicting each other on whether preschools and day care centers will be able to open this Sunday,” reports Haaretz.
  • Are schools even ready? Israel Teachers Union secretary-general Yaffa Ben David tells the Ynet news site that the education system cannot reopen on Sunday due to the absence of safety protocols.
  • “The education system cannot reopen on Sunday,” she says. “It’s not because of us, but because of the lack of preparation of the ministries.”

3. Let’s roll (back): Some experts are also balking at the Health Ministry’s slow-roll approach.

  • Walla News reports on a Hebrew University study that claimed that kids below the age of 10 “were not responsible for the outbreak.” The study calls for schools to resume for those 10 and younger in the first stage of the plan, not the third as currently planned.
  • Prof. Ruth Calderon-Margalit, one of the authors of that plan, writes in Israel Hayom that “we link the large spike at the start of September to the opening of yeshivas and to family vacations in late August, in which there was no social distancing.”
  • Hagai Levine, head of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, tells Kan that “you can’t sacrifice people’s lives for the coronavirus. Parents and kids don’t know if they will be opening preschools on Sunday — the lack of certainty is hurting people. You can’t freeze the whole country because of some red zones.”
  • Yenon Ashkenazi, part of the government’s virus advisory panel, tells Army Radio, “We can open school for young kids and small businesses with no in-person customers today.”
  • Channel 12 news reports that Treasury chief Israel Katz is pushing for the immediate reopening of places of businesses that do not serve customers in person. According to a slide from a presentation from Katz tweeted out by an Army Radio reporter, Katz reasons that the closure of those businesses has doubled the economy’s losses while adding nothing to the health of the country.

4. Teach your children. Well? Yedioth Ahronoth’s top headline previews a “battle over preschools,” but inside the paper it plays up a column from Hen Artzi-Srour bemoaning the conversation around the issue and the fact that kids are viewed either as disease hothouses or work saboteurs and not, well, kids.

  • “This narrow understanding is that which led to the hasty and unorganized opening in the first round. And like a self-fulfilling prophecy, a system that opens in a hurry and with no creativity or gradation will turn into an infection-fest and be closed swiftly with no creativity or gradation,” she writes.
  • Haaretz’s Or Kashti writes that the school system has failed on answering major questions regarding the role of students, parents and teachers.
  • “These are not just difficulties in managing a system with 2.4 million students, but central questions that call into question the role of schools and if they are, for instance, more than just babysitting services.”
  • ZAKA head Yehuda Meshi-Zahav bemoans the education some in the ultra-Orthodox community receive as part of the reason that they refuse to comply with guidelines despite real dangers to their health.
  • “They educated us that Israel is at the center of the world, Jerusalem is at the center of Israel, [the Haredi stronghold of Mea Shearim] is at the center of Jerusalem, its shtibelach are at the center of all of this, and there, prayer must continue at all costs,” he tells ToI.
  • “We need a leader who can bang on the table and say, ‘Enough, what are you doing? Follow the instructions! We’re in the same boat.”

5. Who throws out a shoe? While much of the focus is on schools, the economic cost of the lockdown is never far from peoples’ minds.

  • On Monday and Tuesday, a video of a Tel Aviv shoe store throwing its inventory onto the sidewalk as it hits rock bottom goes viral, distilling some of the most harmful effects of the lockdown into easily consumable footage.
  • “The situation of business owners is at an all-time low,” laments journalist Ariel Elharar, one of several to share the video.
  • “This is what total despair looks like,” writes Kan’s Sharon Idan on Twitter.
  • “The situation got worse and worse,” (former) store owner Avi Samuy tells Army Radio. “I called distributors, and they told me they would come take it back only if they could choose what they recoup and I pay them for travel. I told myself, if I’m not going to make any money, I should at least give to others.”
  • In Walla, Nadav Menuchin notes the part of the video many others overlook.
  • “There are also the people — who are really dealing with a complicated financial situation, one assumes, whose lives have brought them to this moment in which they pounce on a pile of merchandise thrown into the street to choose a new pair of shoes, and save a few shekels,” he writes. “They are both the same side of the coin they don’t have. Two faces of a war of survival that nobody can win.”
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