Just don’t mention the lockdown: 6 things to know for June 28
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Just don’t mention the lockdown: 6 things to know for June 28

Coronavirus infections are up, but unlike before, the government is decidedly not down with shutting businesses; and an arrest at a protest gives Israelis a moment of pause

Bat Yam Municipality Inspector patrol at the beach in the Israeli coastal town of Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv, after it was closed following the spread of the coronavirus, June 26, 2020. (Flash90)
Bat Yam Municipality Inspector patrol at the beach in the Israeli coastal town of Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv, after it was closed following the spread of the coronavirus, June 26, 2020. (Flash90)

1. Non-locks of love: Now that the nation has seemingly come to grips with the fact that we are deep into round two of COVID-19 madness, the issue on everyone’s mind has shifted to how Israel will deal with it.

  • A glance at press reports ahead of a key meeting of the coronavirus cabinet Sunday reveals that policy makers have no intention of returning to the blanket lockdowns and stay-at-home orders that characterized much of the spring, with officials fearing more damage to the economy.
  • “No lockdowns, no gatherings,” reads the top front page headline of Israel Hayom.
  • The tabloid reports that rather than shut down schools (actually not even real school, but summer school, which is more like a subsidized camp/daycare), restaurants, or other likely infection zones, the plan is to keep them going, but crack down on people going to beaches, limit gatherings to 50 people or less and have school/camps operate under a “capsule” regime intended to limit the number of people pupils come into contact with.
  • “As the [Health] Ministry sees it, mass gatherings that are currently allowed — especially in closed spaces, like weddings and other celebrations — are the biggest danger that could lead to a wide outbreak of the coronavirus,” the paper reports.
  • Itamar Grotto, the disgraced deputy Health Ministry head, tells Army Radio that “right now, a general lockdown is not on the table; there are many other preventative measures we can take.”
  • But he adds that Israel is seeing an uptick in the number of serious cases it is treating, “and so we need to rethink what we are doing.”
  • A National Security Council source tells Ynet that “the Health Ministry wants to clamp down on gatherings, that’s their direction,” though the source also says the ministry’s recommendation may change.
  • If they do, Finance Minister Israel Katz is ready for a fight: “I’ll do everything to prevent decisions for broad closures of business and a retreat from activities,” he tells Channel 12 news.

2. Where did we go wrong? Is there anyway to stop the infection train from crashing into the health system? Yes, it seems, but it won’t be easy.

  • The Haaretz daily reports that the team supporting the National Security Council on the subject wrote a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telling him that Israel has lost control of the virus’s spread.
  • But the letter’s authors note that this current wave isn’t yet as bad as the first and action can still stave off the harsh decree: “These figures give a window of opportunity for action, which has the potential to change the trend,” the paper quotes the team writing. “But in the absence of action … the continuation of the current direction will require another lockdown within a few weeks. Its results will be devastating for the economy and society.”
  • Walla News reports that one major outbreak center identified by health officials are old age homes, with caretakers as the source of the infections, singling out one facility in Ramle with 17 infections.
  • “Residents have been taken to hospitals or geriatric care centers, and staff have been taken to hotels. Because of the large number of infections in the home, the Health Ministry will sample all residents and staff in the next three days. For now, those who have been left there are feeling fine,” the news site reports.
  • The Kan broadcaster notes that Israel’s plan for quickly isolating possible carriers is key to its virus policy, but it’s not exactly doing great. In Taiwan and South Korea, possible carriers are identified and tested within a day. “In Israel, the goal is to get to doing it within 48 hours. You can guess that that is really not the situation,” the presenter says.

3. An arresting moment: The arrest, and eventual freeing, of former general Amir Haskel who led a protest outside the Prime Minister’s Residence gets wide media coverage, especially after a judge at the arraignment throws the book at the cops for trying to ban the protesters from Jerusalem, which she says will only muzzle free speech.

  • While others were arrested for blocking Azza Road in the capital, witnesses say Haskel was grabbed by the cops after finishing a speech, i.e., not blocking the road.
  • “Amir spoke at the protest. It was a patriotic speech and immediately after, a few police officers pounced on him, put him in a patrol car and took him,” Hanna Yablonka of Givatayim tells Ynet. “I go to a lot of protests but I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. It appeared as if this was a major criminal and not a pilot in the air force.”
  • Haaretz reports that at the hearing, a police representative admitted that Haskel did not block any roads, but claimed he was responsible since he was an organizer of a protest where it happened. His response: “I can’t control 300-400 people. That’s not a reasonable request.”
  • Seeming to understand which way the wind is blowing, acting police commissioner Motti Cohen says Sunday morning that free speech is important and the police will study the takeaways from the incident, which is boiled down in a Channel 12 headline to “We will learn lessons, we will allow protests.”
  • While the arrest and ensuing protests get massive coverage from most news outlets, Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom buries its story on the bottom of page 15, beneath a column accusing “the left” of protesting because it can’t accept the results of the elections.

4. Political chain gang: Yedioth asks in its lede if it was a political arrest or not, but most everyone else seems to have an answer.

  • “This was a political arrest,” former Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On tells Army Radio. “The police, even if they won’t say so to themselves, know the way the wind is blowing. This is something we should be losing sleep over.”
  • Haaretz’s Amir Tibon tweets that “Netanyahu took over the TV stations and radio, took over the newspaper market, and is trying to use his personal errand boy [Amir] Ohana to take over the police. He hasn’t yet succeeded to take over the courts, and thus the political arrest of Amir Haskel and the other protesters failed.”
  • Reacting to the court ruling, Maariv’s Ben Caspit tweets, “Now there’s no doubt: a political arrest. The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court threw the police and district police commander Doron Yedid down all the stairs.”
  • Zman Yisrael notes that even far-right politician Bezalel Smotrich came out against the arrest of Haskel, pointing to hatred of the police as a rare point of commonality on both ends of the political spectrum.
  • “I wish they would have fought like this for us when they beat us and broke our lives in Amona and protests against the expulsion from the [Gaza settlements],” tweets ultra-Orthodox journalist Yanki Farber, referring to protests against settlement evacuations.

5. This changes everything: Now that we know the arrest was political, criticism of the police and Netanyahu turns into a profitable quarry for pundits.

  • In Zman Yisrael, analyst Yuval Yoaz writes that “this could be a significant moment in the way that the public, the media and the courts will cotton to the right of protest and the dastardly way that the police decided to plot against [them].”
  • In Yedioth, columnist Ben Dror Yemini also calls Haskel’s arrest a watershed moment: “The time has come to stop being apathetic, the time has come to make ourselves heard. The time has come to remember that not everything is political. The time has come to leave behind the chains of ‘yes to Bibi,’ or ‘no to Bibi.’ The time has come for the Israeli masses, no matter their political creed, to say: Enough.”
  • Yemini draws a straight line from the actions of the police to the atmosphere created by Netanyahu of disregard for the public, especially after he utilized the country’s laws to snag some hefty tax breaks for himself. With that episode in mind, Haaretz’s Carolina Landsman lets loose with an angry rant accusing the prime minister and his son of thumbing their noses at the public in a perverse bid to win the people over.
  • “What Netanyahu is daring to do now is comparable to Donald Trump actually shooting somebody in the middle of New York’s Fifth Avenue. … All that remains now is to stampede to Rabin Square, where Netanyahu himself will urinate on the memorial to Yitzhak Rabin and, with his own revolutionary hands, topple the adjacent bust of Rabin,” she fumes.

6. Pulled apart by annexation: Despite reports over the weekend that Israel will only pursue an itty-bitty annexation of settlement blocs come July 1, the criticism, arguing and hand-wringing over the issue are far from slackening.

  • “We’ve brought our worries about annexation time and time again. We can say that if there is any annexation, if won’t pass without consequences,” Belgian Ambassador Olivia Bell tells Army Radio, repeating the mantra that her EU colleagues have been saying.
  • Trying to get outside the same old paradigm, AFP goes straight to the settlers to see what they think about annexation, finding opinions that run the gamut from “as far as we’re concerned, it’s all ours,” to “if we can sit down and negotiate on a common future, life will be better for them and for us.”
  • “This plan is not going to lower tensions and I do not see how it could advance peace,” says one resident of the Kfar Adumim settlement.
  • In ToI, Haviv Rettig Gur writes that the annexation issue is actually tearing the settlement movement asunder and moving the region closer to Palestinian statehood, by disrupting the comfortable (for Israel, at least) indecision over what should be done with the West Bank.
  • “The [US peace] plan was supposed to reshape Palestinian politics, to clarify the limits of Palestinian demands and force a shift in the Palestinian negotiating position. But the Palestinians haven’t budged. The effect, ironically, is being felt mostly on the Israeli side,” he writes. “In its very acceptance of Israel’s arguments about land and security, the Trump plan is forcing a moment of decision, a line in the sand. There is too much at stake, Netanyahu has argued, to cling to the old ambiguity.”
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