Give us liberty and give us death: What the press is saying on September 6
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Israel media review

Give us liberty and give us death: What the press is saying on September 6

With some Haredi cities facing a possible lockdown, residents prepare for a battle royal over the right to pretend nothing is wrong, as the death toll hits 1,000 and counting

Illustrative photo: A student moving into the Hebron Yeshiva in Jerusalem on August 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative photo: A student moving into the Hebron Yeshiva in Jerusalem on August 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Lockdown the sidelocks: Coronavirus cases in Israel are piling up and it is increasingly looking in the press as if a lockdown is on the way, at least for those other guys.

  • Ministers have agreed to place a veritable lockdown on 8 to 10 cities starting Monday, but have decided to wait until Sunday night to actually decide on/ announce which cities out of the 30 “in the red,” will win the closure lotto, keeping suspense and drama high (and paving the way for the inevitable “chaos in Xtown after lockdown imposed with no warning” headlines for Monday).
  • Both channels 12 and 13 report on what they say is a partial list of cities that have already been decided on for the reddest treatment, including Haredi and Arab towns, but despite their matter-of-fact reporting nothing is official as of this writing.
  • Much of the attention focuses on ulra-Orthodox cities amid “hints that they will not cooperate,” in the words of a Channel 12 headline, which is a bit of an understatement. (If this all sounds identical to reports in early April, when Haredi areas were the first being locked down and vowed to fight it, then ding ding ding, the grand prize is… more infections!)
  • The channel reports that much of the anger among Haredi officials “comes after a hearing they were given last night over Zoom, which was held without coordination and as a surprise, in their words.”
  • “If they gave the prime minister a hearing like that, we would long ago have had another prime minister,” Elad Mayor Yisrael Porush says in a Knesset meeting, according to Army Radio.
  • Israel Hayom is already reporting on what it calls a “Haredi rebellion.” “The heads of Haredi local councils announced that they would not cooperate with the government, since in their view cooperating with the Health Ministry and doing lots of tests created a situation in which they have been labeled red cities, even though other cities that did not do tests like them have been labeled yellow and green.”
  • Haaretz reports that “Sources familiar with the situation say the list being presented to the cabinet Sunday will not include communities with the worst rates of infection under the so-called traffic-light plan. Instead, they will be based on a wider spectrum of considerations based on consultations with professionals and local officials.”
  • Former general Roni Numa, who has taken on the task of coordinating the response to the pandemic in Haredi areas, earning him the nickname of the “Haredi coronavirus czar,” tells Haaretz that they should think twice about imposing a lockdown on an unwilling Haredi population.
  • “To put a closure on red cities would put half a million people under lockdown. This is draconian,” he says. “ A lockdown has a social ramification and will only stir up discontent and division. Given the lack of trust among Haredim, there’s a serious danger that they won’t manage to get them to obey the lockdown.”

2. Haredim to the barricades: The rhetoric against a possible lockdown is even stronger in the Haredi press, with the harshest ire aimed at regular ole coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu. (Those who thought he was put in place as a shield for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might see this as a sort of confirmation.)

  • “Haredim don’t give in, go out and protest against the closures,” reads a headline in Kikar Hashabbat, above a column by political analyst Yishai Cohen, who claims the rest of the country will be in lockdown soon anyway.
  • “We, the Haredi public, need to turn on a red light against the Gamzu’s red traffic light,” he writes, in reference to Gamzu’s city color coding plan. “If a lockdown on Haredi cities is decided on, we need to go out and protest, lawfully. To tell Gamzu, this stops here. We do not trust you.”
  • Behadrei Haredim reports that talk of a protest against a closure is running wild on Bnei Brak WhatsApp groups, with people fretting over the loss to their livelihoods. “We won’t be quiet about the civil and social damage to city residents,” one such Bnei Braker tells the news site. “If a closure is indeed imposed, this will blow up in the faces of the government. Masses will take to the streets.”
  • “There’s a feeling in the air of Haredi revolution,” tweets Radio Kol Barama presenter and analyst Yisrael Cohen. “There’s a feeling that this time we won’t let them walk all over us. There’s a feeling that this time we’ll take this to the end, including rebellion and protests.” He adds that “hundreds” of Whatsapp groups have been opened in the last days to coordinate protests.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that people in the Haredi settlement of Emmanuel are naively nonplussed about why they are included. “The government is painting us as a coronavirus infection zone. More than a thousand dead and not a single one from here, so what’s with the red city business. We don’t trust [coronavirus czar Ronni] Gamzu. We trust Hashem blessed be he,” one resident is quoted saying.

3. Arabs, the other other: While there are more Arab cities than Haredi ones on the list of red cities, they are seen as mostly an afterthought in much of the mainstream Hebrew press, though some outlets do toss them a bone.

  • Haaretz notes that the mayor of Nazareth, Ali Salem, is also threatening to challenge a lockdown.
  • “The government and Gamzu want to hurt the city and its residents,” it quotes him telling Nazareth-based Ashams Radio. “Nazareth has a few dozen cases, and relative to its population there’s no reason to declare Nazareth a red city.”
  • But Yedioth reports that Kafr Qasem is taking the threat of a full lockdown seriously and “understand that they can’t dance at two weddings at once: Both having family events and keeping public health.”
  • “We’ve become a red city because people are not listening to the rules,” Mayor Adel Badir tells the paper, praising Gamzu’s plan and saying he wished it had been imposed earlier. “There’s going to be a lockdown here, army, police, there’s no alternative, it’s the only solution.”
  • Army Radio quotes Ahmad Tabach, head of the Deir al-Assad regional council, blaming the closure of wedding halls for the spike in infections, as that caused people to hold parties at home, where nobody was making sure they kept to the rules.
  • “Hundreds of people from wall to wall, with no social distancing, no disinfectant, nothing, which caused the infections to rise,” he’s quoted saying.

4. Is going whole hog more kosher? Minister Yuval Steinitz also has some criticism for the government’s policies, telling Kan that they were wrong to allow the Haredim to run roughshod over politicians’ better sense, allowing the second wave of the virus to run wild.

  • “In the first wave, we were aggressive, led by the prime minister, in the second wave we’ve given in to pressure from the Haredi public,” he says. But he also appears to urge a nationwide lockdown. “The traffic light plan is fine for after the lockdown. The horses are out of the barn. When we got to 500 sick [a day] we should have put a two-week lockdown in place and we would be a green country.”
  • On Channel 12, Shas leader and fellow minister Aryeh Deri appears to agree with him, at least when it comes to a national lockdown, which he seemingly sees as a way to not single out Haredi areas with high infection rates.
  • “The plan isn’t the cure, it’s a tool for managing the crisis,” Deri says, asserting that a general lockdown is the only way to reduce infection rates.
  • He adds that a full lockdown will be discussed by ministers on Thursday.
  • But Yifat Shasha-Biton, the Likud MK who went renegade herself in leading the Knesset charge against new virus restrictions and limits on gatherings in closed spaces, tells Ynet that a national lockdown doesn’t make any sense, referring to it as an “obsession.” and anyway, everything is just fine.
  • “To come two months later and say that because of the easements I fought for in committee we’ve gotten to this situation is too much. We see the number of seriously ill and those on ventilators are stable,” she says. (In fact the number of serious cases has been rising to new highs almost daily.) “Yeah there’s spread of the virus here, but a full lockdown is not the answer.”

5. One thousand and counting: For a look at how hunky dory things are, one need only take a look at the cover of Yedioth, which marks Israel passing the 1,000 death milestone by ripping off The New York Times and printing a partial list of the names of victims on its cover.

  • The paper includes a breakdown of the numbers by age, and location, showing that while the vast majority (919 deaths) were 61 and older, there were three deaths of people younger than 20, and a whole bunch in between,
  • Israel “needs responsibility, wise management and mostly courage. It needs to use the tools that were written about here for months now, with unending frustration — of tests, isolation, breaking the chain of infection, severe restrictions on gatherings. It’s not attention-getting and attractive like another provocative theory, but that’s what mainstream science says,” writes Nadav Eyal in a column for the paper. “Anyone who does not have courage now will suffer later. This was the Israel that showed that to the world in the first wave, and then everything was forgotten and washed away in a wave of dirty politics, populism and charlatanism. It’s not too late to fix.”
  • Other news outlets did not wait for the weekend to run packages on the first thousand deaths, such as Haaretz, which puts faces and stories behind many of the dead, including Rabbi Yaakov Koldetsky, 69, who went to the hospital on a Friday in April while still able to walk around.
  • “After Shabbat we thought the worse news we would get is that his situation would worsen to moderate condition, we were optimistic,” his son tells the paper. “And then we got a call from Tel Hashomer, that three hours after he got there he was saying psalms and collapsed in the middle, and is now in a coma and on a ventilator in serious condition.” He died five weeks later.
  • Makor Rishon writes about Baruch Barnes, 63, from Rishon Lezion, who had just survived heart surgery and then rekindled a relationship with his ex-wife after 17 years of divorce, before coming down with COVID-19 from an unknown source in early August and dying just nine days later.
  • “It was so fast, and we didn’t think it would happen,” his daughter says. “What is so sad with coronavirus is that people think it’s just like a flu that will pass. But the moment it gets to you, you understand that it can kill.”
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