Israel media review

Home for the holidays: What the press is saying on September 10

Israel appears to be zooming toward a lockdown, or something called ‘tightened restraint,’ with coverage portraying enhanced holiday restrictions as essentially a done deal

Ultra orthodox Jewish men pray outside an apartment building in the neighborhood of Ramot, in Jerusalem on September 9, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ultra orthodox Jewish men pray outside an apartment building in the neighborhood of Ramot, in Jerusalem on September 9, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Gloves off, shackles on: Talk of a holiday lockdown is rising along with infection rates Thursday, as Israel slouches triumphantly toward 4,000 new cases a day.

  • Headlines show the media not only taking seriously the possibility of Israel shutting down nationwide, but accepting it almost as a given.
  • “On our way to a lockdown,” reads the top headline in Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tells Army Radio that a “lockdown — it’s one of the options.… It’s hard to see what steps we can take to avoid a general lockdown.”
  • Speaking to Ynet he says “Unfortunately, Israel is galloping toward impossible numbers of infections, serious cases and patients on ventilators. The health system is not prepared for a situation like this after being starved for decades. We need to stop the infections, there’s no choice but to mull a lockdown which will have tight enforcement but also the public obeying all the rules and restrictions.”
  • Ministry chief Chezy Levy tells Army Radio that whatever Israel is doing now ain’t working. “We need to impose restrictions that are wider and more severe, which will have an effect on our quality of life.”

2. You keep saying this word, lockdown. I do not think it means what you think it means: The Kan broadcaster reports that coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu will give ministers four lockdown options, ranging from harsh to relatively lax. The strictest option includes total bans on movement, while the most lax would just impose nationwide restrictions gatherings similar to cities marked red and orange now.

  • The second option, dubbed “tightened restraint,” will essentially only be a ban on intercity travel from Rosh Hashanah through Sukkot in mid-October, with lockdowns only on the actual dates of the holidays, the station reports.
  • According to Channel 12, the second option is the only one the ministers will actually seriously consider, as decided by Netanyahu during consultations ahead of the coronavirus cabinet meeting.
  • “The significance: A general lockdown is not on the table,” the channel reports, without actually going to the trouble to explain how tightened restraint differs from a full lockdown.
  • Other news sites just portray the tightened restraint plan as a full lockdown, or use the term as a catch-all for all four plans, leading to some confusion.
  • “There’s no choice but to make hard decisions immediately, via the tightened restraint plan. Hoping that the ministers can withstand the pressure and do the right thing,” Channel 13 quotes a source close to the government talks saying.
  • Walla reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing for ministers to approve an “almost total lockdown,” starting next week, citing sources with knowledge of consultations. That “almost total lockdown,” is simply the tightened restraint option, though.
  • “A source who took part in the consultations said that the intent is for an almost total lockdown going into effect on Rosh Hashanah eve [next Friday],” the site reports.
  • According to Walla and others, a decision is expected to be made today. The news site says the reason Netanyahu wants a decision a week ahead of time is to give the police and military time to prepare for the operation. I might not hold my breath.

3. Politics gets in the way: While the other news sites seem to portray a lockdown — in whatever form — as a done deal, Haaretz reports that health officials say “Israel still has room to maneuver for taking various steps of differing extents.”

  • The paper notes, though, “the decision-making process is tainted by various interests and power bases that limit the range of options,” which appears to be a dog whistle for the ultra-Orthodox, who have sought a full lockdown so that everyone suffers along with them.
  • “Any option that differentiates between communities won’t survive politically,” an official on Gamzu’s team tells the paper. “After the business with travel to Uman and the failure to impose a full lockdown on ultra-Orthodox cities, it is clear that if there will be any full lockdown, it will be nationwide.”
  • Israel Hayom, though, portrays the resort to a nationwide lockdown as sound health policy. “The working premise is that in Israel, we can’t walk between the raindrops and we have to impose uniform restrictions,” a Health Ministry official is quoted telling the paper. “Nighttime curfews can’t work well because there is no enforcement. Hospital administrators have been very clear – the [healthcare] system is on borderline overload and it is necessary to impose a lockdown as soon as possible to reduce the number of patients in serious condition before winter comes.”
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, Zeev Rotstein, the head of Hadassah hospital, writes that testing needs to go up along with lockdown measures, or it will just create even more severe hotspots among those locked down with a carrier. And he says that public officials are finally starting to understand the need for wide testing.
  • “The reason for this is not a happy one, since the desire to push people to get tested is in order to extricate their flocks from curfews on red cities. I’m still happy and satisfied with the effect that the call to get tested is having, and the rise in the number of confirmed tests could turn out to heavily influence the spread of the disease,” he writes.
  • While the politicians are arguing, they are also ignoring their own rules. Channel 13’s Udi Segal notes that deputy minister Meir Porush, who attended a large wedding on Tuesday, is not alone, going through the laundry list of public figures who have publicly flouted their own guidelines.
  • “One way or another, all these stories underline the deep crisis of faith [in public officials]. Anyone who sees leaders bypassing the rules, flouting guidelines and ignoring laws gets the message: lying, bluffing and cheating are fine.”
  • Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson tweets one more for the family album, Minister Eli Cohen at a wedding, with some creatively lax mask-wearing and no social distancing.

4. Price tag consultations: Levinson also happens to be the reporter behind a bombshell report that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is holding consultations about the possible need for Netanyahu to step down.

  • According to the unsourced report, Mandelblit believes that Netanyahu should have to step down because his use of his office for matters related to his criminal defense constitutes a conflict of interest.
  • The story gets immediate attention, and is seized upon by right-wingers, including Channel 12 reporter Amit Segal, who tweets that if it is true, is is a “price tag” for his own report days ago that alleged a police/prosecution coverup of a potential conflict of interest, and which Netanyahu and allies have used as a cudgel against the cops.
  • “If Mandelblit gives a government actor an order to act as if the prime minister is disqualified — we are in a coup d’etat, in every sense of the word. And there is no tolerance or patience for that,” writes Simcha Rothman in Israel Hayom.
  • Legal analyst Tomer Naor chides Segal and MK Bezalel Smotrich, who retweeted him with some choice words of his own for misleading the public into thinking Mandelblit is pushing regime change. In fact, he points out in a Twitter thread, Mandelblit was meeting on the matter because he had just found out Wednesday that he only has a little over a week to respond to a High Court petition on Netanyahu’s conflict of interests.
  • “The attorney general was holding consultations, and a senior minister called it a price tag attack. And an MK and former minister called it a coup and theft. And thousands of their followers are now under this idiotic false impression,” he writes.
  • Haaretz’s Gidi Weitz points out, though, that Mandelblit can still recommend that Netanyahu be disqualified in his answer to the court later this month.
  • “At the beginning of the week, Mendelblit announced that if Netanyahu signs a conflict of interest agreement that bars him from dealing with appointments, legislation and budgeting for the law enforcement and judicial system, the attorney general would not resort to disqualification. But as of now, Netanyahu does not intend to sign such an agreement, and after the deadline, Mendelblit will have to make a fateful decision,” he writes. “The prime minister’s refusal to sign the agreement, coupled with his daily performances and promises of inquiries designed to threaten the prosecutor’s office and the police, cannot be ignored by Mendelblit, and he will soon have to act.”

5. Override my dead body: In Israel Hayom, Mati Tuchfeld reports that Netanyahu is instead working on a plan to override the court, making the whole point moot.

  • Tuchfeld argues that Netanyahu is using the threat of torpedoing his rotation with Defense Minister Benny Gantz as a way of getting him to agree to the override clause.
  • “What he won’t agree to concede on, under any circumstance, is the possibility that the High Court will disqualify him from serving as alternate prime minister in the claim that despite the ratified law on the matter, his status would be closer to that of a minister, who must resign if indicted, than that of prime minister. Netanyahu’s demand of Gantz is unequivocal: Without the override clause against the High Court on the matter, there will not be a rotation. Gantz, it appears, tends to agree. His narrow path to the premiership suddenly becomes a little wider. [Justice Minister Avi] Nissenkorn, however, and the person who has often emerged as the party’s true string-puller, Gabi Ashkenazi, adamantly object.”
  • MK Miki Haimovich, asked by Army Radio if her Blue and White party would ever agree to such a maneuver, is unequivocal, even if it means that Gantz won’t be prime minister: “There won’t be an override clause. Our positions have not changed,” she says.
  • In ToI, editor David Horovitz takes Netanyahu to task for his attacks on the justice system and his cynical apology to the family of a Bedouin man killed by the cops, now that the anti-police narrative serves him.
  • “Netanyahu has a dismal track record of incitement against Israel’s Arab population, but his key imperative as his trial gathers pace is to discredit the cops and prosecutors who probed and indicted him, and this abysmal saga does precisely that,” he writes.
  • “The whole tragic story stinks, as it stank from the very start. In the chaotic darkness before dawn in a Bedouin village down south, a civilian lost his life. A cop lost his life. The authorities rushed to an unsupported and unsupportable conclusion, and for long years refused to acknowledge the truth. And that truth has only emerged now because of unrelated legal and political battles, raising the question of what else is being covered up by Israeli law enforcement that has yet to emerge because it does not serve somebody powerful’s unrelated personal interests,” he adds.
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