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Israel media review

Hair today, goners tomorrow? What the press is saying on October 7

More public figures are under the gun (or scissors) for breaking rules, but it may not be so cut and dry, as Likud slumps, businesses grump and everyone else shrugs

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) taking a 15-minute coronavirus test, October 6, 2020. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) taking a 15-minute coronavirus test, October 6, 2020. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

1. Get out, or not: Ministers voted overnight to extend a state of emergency that allows authorities to clamp down on protests, prayers and other activities, though the more the infection rate appears to drop, the more the pleading for a swift reopening mounts.

  • Channel 12 quotes a chorus of ministering ministers saying that “we can’t keep caging the whole country.”
  • An epidemiological report accompanying the decision “took an unequivocal stance regarding mass gatherings, while differentiating between open spaces and closed ones, and the number of attendees,” the channel adds.
  • Kan reports that the Health Ministry is demanding that allowing businesses to reopen be conditioned on the creation of an electronic system to track how many people enter the space, though it notes that the ministry made a similar demand during the first lockdown “but it was scrapped after a protest organized by retailers and malls.”
  • (Given the fact that uninterested temperature checkers posted at business entrances usually can’t even bother to look at the thermometer, and often just wave malfunctioning devices in people’s faces for show, and nobody cares, one wonders what kind of fantasy world the ministry is living in.)
  • Speaking to Army Radio, former Health Ministry director Shuki Shamir says that “despite the rise in morbidity, no state aside from us and Victoria in Australia has imposed a second lockdown. Even in Spain they placed a local lockdown in which schools and restaurants stayed open.”
  • We may not be able to go check out all those open Spanish tapas joints, but we can still go a whole kilometer. Walla runs an article on all the beautiful nature spots just a kilometer from some people’s homes, pimping a map put out by the Nature and Parks Authority that shows users all the nice places they can legally traipse to, from rivers to parks to a military cemetery accidentally flagged as a nice green space.
  • “You don’t just need to stay home, or go to the neighborhood store, since there are rivers, nature and nature sites just a short distance away from home that perhaps people don’t know about and so do not visit,” says Iris Arbel, who heads the project.

2. For whom the Belz tolls: According to Channel 12, coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu is pushing for a “differential” lockdown, i.e., restrictions placed only in high infection zones. Not mentioned is the fact that from the sound of it, such a plan would be the same as his localized “traffic light” plan, which already failed thanks to a rebellion by ultra-Orthodox political leaders.

  • But Israel Hayom quotes Shas party head Aryeh Deri saying that “if the infection rate goes down nationwide and we need to open the economy and place differential closures on red cities, I’ll support it to allow economic activity to return.”
  • A UTJ source is not quite as unequivocal, being quoted in the paper saying that “if there is infection, what can we do?! We believe the infection rate will go down in the next few days.”
  • According to unsourced figures aired by Channel 12, the rate of positive virus tests in Haredi areas is 23 percent, versus a national non-Haredi rate of 8%.
  • According to Kan, though, despite the high infection rate, ultra-Orthodox only make up 12 percent of all deaths. But the report says the rate is actually higher than expected, since only 3 percent of the community is 65 or older.
  • Even if you take the comments to Israel Hayom at face value, Haaretz reports that ultra-Orthodox leaders have basically lost control of the Haredi street, with anti-lockdown and anti-police violence raging in certain places.
  • The paper’s Aaron Rabinwoitz writes in an analysis that the process of decentralization has been going on for years, and while generally welcomed, has proved to be a destabilizing factor in the age of COVID-19: “Suddenly one can see growing numbers of communities that were considered mainstream Haredi, such as the Belz and Vizhnitz Hasidim, in direct conflict with “the state,” standing shoulder to shoulder with extremist factions in Mea Shearim and with the Jerusalem Faction. These groups, more vocal and militant, willing to pay a higher price, will only grow, garnering more power and influence. It’s likely that these will dictate the tone for the sane majority (which will become a minority).”

3. Cutting locks: Minister Gila Gamliel is still under fire for a visit to Tiberias to pray inside a synagogue, seemingly against lockdown rules, but she has some company, with reports proliferating of others breaking the guidelines as well.

  • Kan reports that Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman hosted a bunch of extended family members for the Sukkot holiday.
  • Asked about it, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch tells the station that “I don’t know the case … if a public figure transgressed, there needs to be a serious punishment beyond the fine.”
  • “This is starting to become a norm of negative role modeling, which is stewing together with the general lack of trust in the decision-making process,” former IDF spokesman Avi Benayahu, a vocal government critic, tells Army Radio.
  • But wait, there’s more. Yedioth Ahronoth puts an “expose” on its front page that none other than Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “totally broke the rules” by having a hairdresser come over to the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem to gussy up her do.
  • The report quotes sources representing Netanyahu saying she believed the taxpayer-funded haircut was allowed because it was for an appearance in an informational PR video. The purpose of the video, which was posted on her personal Instagram page and garnered 12,000 views? To get Israelis to wear masks.
  • “It’s unbelievable how much this family (and the government) are pissing an endless stream on our heads from the diving board,” tweets Kan’s Li-at Steinitz, making an already icky Hebrew saying even more graphic.
  • Yedioth’s online news outlet Ynet reports that Yamina leader Naftali Bennett also slipped up: His teenage son had a friend over late last month.
  • “The friend went to the Bennett house in Ra’anana on Yom Kippur eve. He walked over from his own house in Herzliya,” it reports, referring to adjacent burbs north of Tel Aviv. “In footage posted on social media, the two — both 15 — can be seen shooting videos at the end of Yom Kippur, at a time when Israeli citizens were still under a general lockdown.”
  • Have you seen a minister breaking the rules? How about a neighbor? Good luck finding an authority that cares. Kan reports that a special hotline for people to snitch on each other for breaking isolation or lockdown rules has been shut down, along with a small body that had been tasked with enforcing quarantines.
  • The report notes that police say the enforcement force was an important tool in connecting quarantine-breakers with the long arm of the law, but the ministry says it doesn’t have the manpower and the cops should do it themselves.

4. Netanyahu protection minister: Heat is also continuing to pour on Gamliel. Channel 13 reports that after her Tiberias tryst, she showed up for work at the Knesset for a vote on Tuesday night (when the Knesset passed rules allowing the government to clamp down on protests), despite the fact that she had already begun to feel symptoms.

  • “According to various accounts, she herself admitted that night to several people that she was not well,” the channel reports, adding that unlike other lawmakers who have fallen ill, she has not informed the Knesset that she was there.
  • The channel adds that on video, she can be seen chatting with fellow Likud minister David Amsalem for over 15 minutes, but nonetheless, he does not need to quarantine. (She was wearing a mask during the conversation.)
  • The channel reports that Gamliel was found by police to have lied to contact tracers, and they are very interested in opening a criminal probe.
  • Nonetheless, Yedioth reports that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is not expected to give an okay for police to open a criminal probe and will instead make do with an administrative punishment and a NIS 5,000 fine. In any case, it says Mandelblit isn’t even looking at the case file now and will only pick it up next week after the Sukkot holiday.
  • “Gamliel’s apparent law-breaking … is thought of as on the bottom rung of violations,” it reports.
  • A poll by Channel 12 finds that 76 percent of respondents think Gamliel should be fired over her transgressions.
  • The poll gets much more attention though for finding Bennett’s Yamina party gaining on Netanyahu’s Likud, which leads it 26 seats to 23 seats. The word “dramatic” is used ad nauseum across the media landscape to describe the results of the hasty online survey that had about 500 respondents.
  • Israel Hayom attempts to pin the blame for the poor polling on Gamliel, running a headline with a quote accusing Gamliel of doing “tremendous damage — and it’s seen in the polls.” (The quote, from an unnamed Likud MK, is actually a paraphrase. And the MK’s main point is that Likud is paying for the “mistake” of shutting down soccer games.)
  • In Haaretz, which first broke the story of Gamliel’s alleged misdeeds, editor Aluf Benn describes Netanyahu’s response to Gamliel as “lame and pitiful” and attributes Bennett’s rise and Netanyahu’s slump to the fact that he has locked himself away instead of touring around and being among the people who should not be out.
  • “It seems Netanyahu is afraid of being infected with COVID-19, and is no less afraid of showing leadership, which would cost him by assuming responsibility for the failed management of the crisis,” he writes. “Now, during the most severe national crisis ever, Netanyahu is not leaving his home and is making do with remote preaching,” he writes. “Instead of providing encouragement and support to the public servants who are dealing with the outbreak and the lockdown, Netanyahu is devoting his time to his war against the attorney general and the cancellation, or evaporation, of his trial. … The public is unaware of what is happening behind the walls on Balfour Street or in Caesarea, and does not know the details of the prime minister’s schedule. But when the supreme military commander in chief disappears from the front, people sense he is missing. They comprehend that Netanyahu is not sending them a message of hope and security, but one of despair and fear.”

5. Unmasked: If that rhetoric sounds to you like something US President Donald Trump could get behind, you are not alone. But some in Israel — to say nothing of the US — see scary signs in the leader of the free world pushing the message that COVID-19 is no big deal.

  • “People are looking for easy solutions wherever they are, so if a person wants to say ‘I can get infected and after a few days go out,’ they’ll [now be able to] say ‘I’m not the first one to do this, Donald Trump did it,’” Dr. Daniel King, a senior COVID-19 doctor at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, tells ToI’s Nathan Jeffay.
  • The Forward’s Michael Janofsky, meanwhile, asks whether Trump’s behavior violates Jewish medical ethics. Or at least that’s the question posed in the piece’s headline, which does not actually come up in the article. Instead, it looks at what Paul Wolpe, a Jewish professor of ethics and medicine at Emory, thinks about Trump’s leadership as compared to Moses. (spoiler: not much.)
  • “True leaders are people who serve and are not in it for themselves. Moses tries to turn down his leadership. He talks about how people won’t follow me and, ‘Who am I to do this?’ There’s a humility there that great leaders demonstrate, and the opposite of that is a kind of arrogance and narcissism. That you need to show that you’re invulnerable to things like a virus is not great leadership,” says Wolpe. “What we need is good modeling for how to behave in a pandemic. That’s what great leadership would have shown.”
  • Trump isn’t Moses. But is Claudia Conway Deep Throat? Several Israeli news outlets play up videos by Conway, daughter of Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, who revealed on TikTok (and maybe broke HIPAA) that her parents have COVID.
  • In the US, the TikToksposé was met with a nonplussed shrug by most. “What to Make of This Claudia Conway Business,” reads a headline in Vanity Fair, for instance.
  • But in Israel, well, here’s a headline from Channel 12, which ran multiple pieces on her TikTok “revelations”: “A 15-year-old girl has exposed on TikTok all the details that the White House would prefer to keep under wraps.”
  • Yedioth, which devotes nearly a whole page to breathlessly recounting her videos, writes that “the feeling that the White House has hidden information about Trump’s true status, together with the fact that she is the daughter of one of the most senior aides in Trump’s circle, have turned Claudia, in the eyes of many, into a true ‘investigative journalist,’ in the age of TikTok.”
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