1. We’re baaaaaack: With the mercury rising, the number of new coronavirus infection falling and almost everything but some schools and restaurants opened back up, Israel’s media is all but declaring victory over COVID-19.
- “We’ve returned,” reads the front page headline of Yedioth Ahronoth, adorned with pictures of people shopping at malls, outdoor markets and getting swole at the gym.
- “If there is one image that symbolizes more than anything Israeli normalcy, it is shoppers mobbing the markets and stores ahead of the weekend. Yesterday, it seemed, Israel finally started to return to normal, albeit a bit different, under the coronavirus’s shadow.”
- “This week Israel was entitled to mark a victory – however temporary and partial – over the coronavirus,” writes Amos Harel in Haaretz, though he, like others, note that Israel is still not out of the woods.
- “The most difficult part of the crisis still lies ahead, in the long-term economic damage,” he adds, noting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who claimed credit for Israel escaping relatively unscathed, so far, will be looking for partners to blame the economic collapse and reverberations from it on (ahem, ahem, Blue and White and Health Ministry strongman Moshe Bar Siman-Tov.)
- There is more on the way too, with Channel 12 news reporting that Sunday is also expected to see further restrictions on gatherings lifted, with up to 50 people likely to be allowed at weddings and other events.
2. Not quite normal: The Kan network reports that police fear beaches will be inundated with sun and surf worshippers over the weekend, as temperatures climb.
- According to the report, the problem is that beaches are officially closed, but are open to those pursuing water-based athletics: “The neither-here-nor-there situation creates an enforcement issue — and also endangers lives and the police are worried about the consequences.”
- Health Ministry deputy director Itamar Grotto tells Army Radio that “by the end of May, we’ll be able to open more places, but this will not be full normalcy. The purple certification [special restrictions on stores] will be around for a while still.”
- Another immediate issue is the looming opening of preschools and daycares on Sunday, though they will ostensibly shut again three days later for the minor holiday of Lag B’Omer, which is supposed to be a vacation day.
- However, teachers looking to get back on track are being asked (or offered the opportunity) by their union to volunteer and work, according to several Hebrew media reports, and unsurprisingly, the suggestion isn’t met with cheers from union boss Yaffa Ben David, who signed the request.
- “Yaffa Ben David has placed the preschool teachers on the firing line with her call for teachers to volunteer on Lag B’Omer,” Channel 12 writes on teacher responding on Facebook.
3. Big Brother in the lab: Channel 13 news reports that as part of opening back up, Israel will be introducing a system, like ones used in Taiwan and South Korea, that will find potential coronavirus carriers and test them, and if they test positive, will inform anyone who was near them over the last two weeks so they can go into self-quarantine.
- According to the channel, epidemiological investigations to track the carriers will be conducted via both phone tracking and a team of researchers, and there will even be a phone line where people can call to report on people carrying the virus.
- If all of that sounds familiar, it’s because it describes the exact system that has been in place since the pandemic was still an epidemic and corona was still a beer or halo around the sun, though that does not stop the channel from reporting on it breathlessly as a major advance.
- The New York Times, meanwhile, takes a look at other advances being pushed by Israel to try and test for the virus via voice analysis, smell, or even facial recognition technology, comparing the military-led brain trust coming up with these idea to the Pentagon’s DARPA (the body that invented the internet, GPS and much more).
- According to the report, the facial recognition technology is already being used to flag people in hospitals without masks and to find those who were in contact with carriers.
- “The national undertaking is for the first time linking up major hospitals and research institutes with Israel’s vaunted high-tech sector and its military-industrial behemoths: Elbit Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the companies behind Israel’s arsenals of unmanned vehicles, missiles and souped-up fighter jets,” the paper reports.
- The grey lady previously reported that Israel would be launching a massive randomized serological study to get a better picture of the virus’s spread in the country, but on Friday, Yedioth reports that Health Ministry’s Bar Siman-Tov is facing heat over the program, which had been widely lauded.
- According to the paper, labs say there is no way they will be able to keep up with running that many tests, and tests for other diseases, like HIV, may end up falling to the wayside. “I won’t agree to this. If they overwhelm me with serological tests, other tests will be pushed off, and this is a great recipe for mistakes,” the unnamed head of one large lab is quoted telling the paper.
4. If at first you don’t succeed: At the same time as Israel is opening up, its government seems to be taking shape, with Netanyahu getting the nod Thursday to form a coalition and remain prime minister as part of a power sharing deal with Blue and White head Benny Gantz.
- Walla’s Tal Shalev writes that Netanyahu has reason to pop champagne, between the coronavirus win and his latest show of political wizardry. But as with fears of a viral comeback, open questions remain regarding the coalition deal even after the High Court decided not to intervene.
- “Netanyahu … is focused on one clause: The justices indeed okayed his being prime minister for a year and a half, but have not yet ruled on the two-headed mechanism of Netanyahu and Gantz in the premiership, a novel and unfamiliar legal situation, and have not ruled on an arrangement that allows the alternate prime minister to continue to serve even if under indictment,” she writes.
- Her dad, Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev, pens a similar conclusion regarding the court’s ability to rule against Netanyahu in the future: “While one cannot deny that the High Court granted Netanyahu rare, if not unqualified confirmation, its decision is, in many ways, a Trojan Horse. While giving Netanyahu and his agreement with Gantz a kosher stamp, the court appointed itself kashrut supervisor for the future, signaling its willingness to annul sections of the coalition agreement once they reach fruition.”
- While at least one petition has already been refiled, and many assume there will be more, Yesh Atid-Telem MK Meir Cohen tells Army Radio not to expect any from his opposition-leading party: “I don’t think we need to petition after the court rules. My party and I understand that this is the ruling and respect it, you don’t need to run to the court over everything.”
5. Arguing for argument’s sake: Despite the seeming seal of approval granted Netanyahu, Israel Hayom editor Boaz Bismuth has only criticism for the court for even entertaining the petitions against Netanyahu and the coalition deal.
- “This whole charade should have been avoided, despite the positive ratings it produced – and personally, I prefer a good legal debate over reality TV, especially with the outcome being as it was. The unanimous ruling proves just how extraneous this discussion was. The High Court’s purpose is to issue legal rulings, not hand out grades.”
- In the same paper, Jacob Bardugo accuses the court of being “intoxicated with power.”
- Kan’s Yaron Dekel writes that the court’s decision to okay Netanyahu but leave the door open for future challenges ended up angering both right and left, when all the justices wanted to do was to stay out of a political fight: “The judges didn’t want to find themselves in the heart of a stormy political campaign, in which the main subject pushed by Netanyahu would be them. The judges know, and have even said more than once, that without public trust, it will be hard for them to do their jobs.”
- In Yedioth, columnist Yedidya Stern calls the ruling a “victory for sanity,” though he wishes everyone would just get along and stop battling over the court by pushing it toward extremes. “The deep right wants a revolution against the judicial regime. The deep left wants to keep the status quo to ‘save’ democracy,” he says. “We need a new way of thinking, balanced and measured, that will keep the fringes frustrated and the country healthy.”
6. See ya, Sinai: The Wall Street Journal reports that the Pentagon is seeking to drawdown it’s troops presence in Sinai as part of the Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping mission, drawing Israeli concerns.
- “US officials say the push to remove troops from Sinai is opposed by Israel, which views the peacekeepers as an important check on Egyptian military activity, and the State Department, which regards the force as a symbol of American leadership in the region that helps solidify a landmark diplomatic achievement in the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty,” the paper reports.
- Former Obama administration official Andrew Miller tells the paper that without the force, Egypt’s largely hidden battle against jihadi insurgents would become even more opaque, which may be a reason for Cairo to back the move: “They view us as an impediment. I think they do want to remilitarize the Sinai,” he says.
- On Twitter, former ambassador to the US Michael Oren says the US should think twice about pulling out troops.
- Speaking to Tel Aviv Radio, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz says Israel is planning on bringing up the proposed drawdown with American officials. “The international force in Sinai is important, and (the) American participation in it is important,” he says, according to Reuters.
- The proposed withdrawal comes with the Islamic State’s branch in the Sinai far from defeated, according to Channel 13 news.
- “The group is not just continuing to hit the Egyptian army, but has stepped up its attacks recently. High-value attacks against senior military officers, conquering posts and stealing weapons in the peninsula that long ago turned into a Daesh state within Egypt,” it reports. “The Egyptian army, despite the emergency it finds itself in, has not managed for years to do anything to break the deadlock in the Sinai.”