Israel media review

It’s a budget! What the press is saying about spending money and spreading COVID

The budget still has some hurdles, but after almost 3 years of waiting, an initial Knesset okay is enough for the press to play up, even as sky-high virus figures are played down

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett seen with Minister of Finance Avigdor Liberman during a vote on the first reading of the state budget in the Knesset, September 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett seen with Minister of Finance Avigdor Liberman during a vote on the first reading of the state budget in the Knesset, September 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

1. Waiting to expense: With Israel recording COVID-19 case numbers that make the third wave of the pandemic look quaint, it would be little surprise if the coronavirus crisis were once again dominating the news agenda.

  • But the big surprise in the news is something that in most countries would be seen as the most ho-hum of stories: The Knesset passing a state budget on the first of three eventual reads.
  • “After years of paralysis, the Knesset approves a budget,” reads the top headline in Haaretz’s print edition.
  • For the new government, the paper reports, the passage marks “a major step forward on one of the major goals for which it was established.”
  • Coalition whip Idit Silman tells Army Radio that the passage of the budget is proof that the government is working again “after years of political chaos.” But she also hints at a possible bumpy road ahead.
  • “It’s been years since we’ve had such a big budget pass the Knesset. True, there were parts that were under a question mark. The big things at the heart of disputes shifted a lot before the vote.”
  • Channel 12 explains that the main bone of contention was a rider that would have increased deregulation, pushed by Yamina, but opposed by coalition members on the left: “Only at the last second did they find a compromise on the deregulation.”
  • The channel also claims that the “relative quiet” from the opposition was due to the fact that opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu was chucked into the isolation box after a week and a half on vacation in Hawaii. (Netanyahu addressed the Knesset, and castigated the budget, from behind a screen, alone, in the public gallery.)
  • Kan actually tells readers a little of what’s in the budget, which includes NIS 432.3 billion for this year and another NIS 452.5 billion for 2022, along with a debt ceiling of 3% which is set to rise to 3.5% next year.
  • “According to the Finance Ministry, the biggest budget is going to the Defense Ministry, with NIS 73.3 billion, alongside NIS 70 billion for education. Health will stay at NIS 44.8 billion.”
  • In Walla, Liat Ron writes critically that the budget was “made in the image of lobbyists.”
  • “This was a holiday for Israel, and really a day of dances and joy for the dozens of lobbyists and bucketful of machers roaming between lawmakers’ feet. In the last month and a half they managed to torpedo, soften, cut and throw out of the budget bill a large portion of the reforms that would have lowered the cost of living for Israelis,” she charges.
  • “They talk a ton about budgets and regulations, but barely mention families in poverty,” Rabbi Yaakov Gloiberman of the Yad B’yad charitable organization tells Army Radio. “We’re in a war on poverty and nobody is even looking in our direction. They forget that a third of Israeli kids live under the poverty line.”
  • Moti Tuchfeld from the opposition-backed Israel Hayom also calls the budget a “disaster,” accusing the government of both being spendthrift and penny pinching.
  • “This is a government that will do anything to survive, including throwing money indiscriminately at anyone who asks. The budget funds are unprecedented, leaving nothing much to fight the coronavirus pandemic, adapt the education system to current morbidity levels, or deal with collapsing government-owned hospitals across the country,” he writes.

2. Party on: Indeed with 11,250 cases reported Wednesday, and nearly 10,000 on Thursday before the day was even up, Israel has swiftly gone from light unto the nations to cautionary tale unto the nations.

  • But given the atmosphere of being over it already, pandemic coverage is relatively muted, with most of it focused on a festival held in Eilat that drew thousands of partygoers despite restrictions and warnings against it.
  • “Neither the warnings about the rise in morbidity nor the sharp letter from Dr. Sharon Alroy-Pries managed to keep thousands of students from coming over the last days to the Funjoya festival in Eilat happening all weekend,” the channel tsks, noting that police tried to shut it down, but did not have the authority. “In pictures and videos coming out of the pool parties, hundreds of youths can be seen partying at hotels without masks or social distancing.”
  • One gets a very different story from reading Ynet’s take, which notes that special corornavirus workers were dispatched to hand out 40,000 masks and make sure everyone had a Green Pass showing vaccination or recovery.
  • “Attendees are not allowed to move from party to party between hotels like in past years,” it reports. “And the night parties that were supposed to happen were canceled by the organizers.”
  • A headline in Walla fills in the rest of that story, though. “The night parties at Funjoya were canceled; so the attendees went out to party at Eilat’s clubs.”
  • Kan interviews Eilat Mayor Eli Lankri, putting him on a split screen alongside frenetic videos from Girls Gone Wild, the party in Eilat. Lankri, doing his best impression of Amity Island’s Larry Vaughn, insists that if a bunch of kids want to get blitzed and spread COVID (and shekels) around his town, who is he to stop them?
  • “If the Health Ministry thinks that it’s a danger to the public, it’s on them to cancel it or limit it, or restrict gatherings. That’s not my job. What do they want from me, that as Mayor I should forbid what the government allows.”

3. The numbers game: Okay, maybe a Jaws reference does take it a bit far. ToI editor David Horovitz points out, for example, that the stats look a lot worse than they may actually be.

  • “For a start, Israel is currently a world leader in daily new cases in large part because it has been carrying out unprecedentedly high numbers of COVID tests ahead of the return to school. Meanwhile, the number of serious cases, at 666 on Thursday morning, is more than double what it was a month ago — but the rise appears to be slowing as the third shot kicks in, with vulnerable Israelis having rushed to receive the booster,” he writes.
  • Slightly bursting that bubble, Army Radio reports that the positivity rate among school-age kids is a whopping 12 percent. Out of 100,000 kids in isolation, nearly 50,000 actually have the virus, the station reports.
  • Also in ToI, Nathan Jeffay reports on a study from the Maccabi HMO that found that getting sick and recovering provides better immunity than getting two vaccine shots, at least against the Delta variant. But that doesn’t mean getting sick is a good alternative to getting the vaccine.
  • “Certain people who are not inclined to get vaccinated might be mistaken and think that this means you’d better get sick a priori and not get a vaccine,” Prof. Cyrille Cohen tells Jeffay. “Such thinking is medically wrong, and the results of the study do not mean that people should expose themselves on purpose and get sick.”
  • Of course, even the most supposedly reliable numbers can be misleading. Channel 13 reports on a vaccination center in Bnei Brak that is set up in such a way that to get registered as a vaccine recipient, you only need to show up and sign in, meaning you can leave without actually getting the shot but also be marked down as vaccinated.
  • The channel reports that the Bnei Brak site in particular has become a magnet for those aiming to bypass inoculation to obtain a Green Pass, though the loophole may exist elsewhere as well.
  • If you want something done right, sometimes you just have to do it yourself. That’s why coronavirus czar Salomon Zarqa is heading to Ukraine, to keep an eye on the tens of thousands of Israelis who insist on flying to Uman every Rosh Hashanah, and make sure everyone stays healthy, Channel 12 reports.
  • “Zarqa will go to Uman and check out from up close the dangers of Rosh Hashanah there,” the channel reports. “He plans on meeting with professionals from the local health system and looking into the testing system being implemented in the city, including by Magen David Adom people from Israel.”

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