Israel media review

Just the vax, ma’am: What the press is saying about shots, medical and otherwise

The vaccine drive is ramping back up, though some question what is being traded away for virus immunity; and election jockeying has some asking if there’s room for all the parties

A medical worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine in Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv on December 20, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
A medical worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine in Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv on December 20, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

1. Immunity now: Israel’s vaccine drive is racing ahead a day after a new shipment of shots was flown in, putting it on the path to become the world’s first immunized nation.

  • Channel 12 news reports that Israel will be getting 400,000-700,000 coronavirus vaccine doses from Pfizer-BioNTech each week until the adult population is immunized, as part of a deal with the company under which it gets health data from Israel’s massive medical database.
  • According to the report, health authorities are seeking to administer 200,000 shots a day.
  • Channel 13 reports that those 55 and up will be able to make appointments for vaccines starting Tuesday, though the first shots will go to teachers.
    Nearly three-quarters of Israelis over 60 have already received the first dose of the shot, according to official data, though Walla reports that in cities that are predominantly Arab, only 42 percent have been vaccinated.
  • The number is slightly better in cities that are predominantly ultra-Orthodox, with 48 percent being vaccinated.
  • Meanwhile, some are asking what kind of medical data Israel is giving Pfizer to get all these vaccines, despite a promise that it’s only information that is publicly available.
  • Israel Democracy Institute researcher Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler tells ToI’s Shoshanna Solomon she has a “strong feeling” that a “different kind of data” has been promised to the US pharma giant: personal data rendered anonymized — that is citizens’ medical files from which names, addresses and ID numbers are removed.
  • “The prime minister must publish immediately what was written in the agreement with Pfizer,” she says, joining others urging transparency.
  • “I don’t know what they gave and what they will give, but it’s clear there needs to be total transparency here,” a former senior health official is quoted telling the Calcalist financial daily, calling the decision “outrageous.”

2. It’s bad: There are also questions about the effectiveness of Israel’s new and improved lockdown and whether the spread of the coronavirus is being slowed.
Israel Hayom runs a massive front-page headline quoting coronavirus czar Nachman Ash saying that “the curve is starting to flatten,” alongside a picture of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcoming the new shots.

  • But Tomer Luton, Ash’s chief of staff, tells Kan that “we’re very much waiting to see a clear flattening in the data. Alongside all the optimism, we need to remember that we are in a third wave with record numbers of patients in serious condition, hospitalizations and deaths.”
  • “The public doesn’t understand how bad it is,” reads a headline in Yedioth Ahronoth, quoting the head of the coronavirus ward at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikvah.
  • “The situation is bad,” agrees the head of the coronavirus ward at Hadassah Ein Kerem, also in Yedioth. “We’re opening more and more coronavirus wards.”
  • Haaretz’s Nir Hasson writes of a tour of some coronavirus wards, noting that “contrary to how things look from outside, inside there is no feeling of collapse. There are only professional medical concerns – oxygen saturation levels, medications, measurements, food, and urine.”
  • Doctors, however, say they are getting busier and Hasson notes that the tough mental health situation due to patients’ isolation is making things even harder: “It’s better not to describe it. It’s more bitter than death. It imprisons you. It’s impossible, you’re very weak. And I was an active, athletic man,” says an octogenarian. “But I’m not someone who’s afraid. I’ve been saved from death five times already. I was in Bergen-Belsen, most of my family was murdered in Auschwitz. The medical team here is exceptional, and I hope they’ll help save me from this misery.”

3. Party animals: With a few weeks to go before party lists are set, jockeying among the various contenders hoping for a shot at the Knesset is in full swing, amid questions over the embarrassment of choices and cacophony of contenders for Netanyahu’s crown.

  • In Walla, Tal Shalev writes that the upcoming elections will be a “festival of megalomania,” noting all the parties led by one man (always a man) without any of the trappings of political parties built from the ground up, like primaries, party institutions or members.
  • “In the next few weeks, all the players will hold talks on alliances and instead of primaries and complicated party mechanisms, it’s the polls that will determine their value and price,” she writes.
  • Itzik Shmuli, whose Labor party is headed to the trash heap according to polls, tells Army Radio that parties must join forces, even those better off than Labor, or their dream of replacing Netanyahu will be lost for all.
  • “Crowded on the left, many parties but few votes,” reads a front page headline in Israel Hayom, attempting to poke fun at the plethora of parties. Another headline inside the paper calls them numerous “as [grains of] sand.”
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer also has some questions, at least regarding what to call all the parties when they get together. (If I might suggest: a squanderation.)

4. Always a bargaining chip, never a bargain: On the other side, Yedioth reports that Netanyahu is trying — yet again — to bring extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir into the political mix, as a partner of Bezalel Smotrich, who has threatened to split off Yamina and run alone. According to the report, the two were all ready for talks, but Ben-Gvir called the meeting off once he found out that Smotrich may have been planning on using the alliance as a way to put pressure on Yamina head Naftali Bennett.

  • Bennett has made clear he has no truck with Ben-Gvir, meaning the Kahanist may have been setting himself up to once again be left at the altar by a supposed partner.
  • Channel 12’s Daphna Liel notes that whether Bennett will eventually link up with Netanyahu may be determined by whether he makes peace with Smotrich: “If half of [Bennett’s] list prefers Netanyahu, he’ll have a much harder time linking up with [Yair] Lapid or [Avigdor] Liberman. He could also find himself in a divided party the day after. If he goes it alone, he risks becoming weaker, but his maneuverability after the vote will grow by a lot.”
  • “Smotrich wanted to use me as a bargaining chip,” Ben-Gvir complains on Army Radio. “If he wanted to talk he has my number.”

5. Going it Ya’alon: Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party also gets a dose of rare attention after splitting back off of Yesh Atid and bringing aboard a few well-known names, some with no political experience, and losing one candidate to bribery allegations.

  • Haaretz’s Jonathan Lis writes that the move by Telem is meant to draw votes away from the right, though Ya’alon is ultimately expected to join forces with an existing party amid questions over how much he can do alone.
  • Social media creature Raz Tsipris jokes on Twitter that Hagai Levine, an oft-quoted public health expert who is joining Ya’alon, should not be criticized for making himself out to be a state official while eyeing a political career: “Joining [Ya’alon] proves that he has no actual political aspirations.”
  • In Zman Yisrael, Shalom Yerushalmi criticizes Ya’alon for claiming in an interview with Channel 12, in which he was asked about his low popularity, that polls have never been run with his party as a separate entity and that when he joined with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience back in the day, Gantz’s party jumped from 14 seats to 26.
  • “Let’s be clear,” writes Yerushalmi. “The polls that gave Gantz 14 seats came before the former chief of staff ever opened his mouth. The announcement of the alliance with Ya’alon came at the same event in January 19 when Gantz gave his first famous speech that turned him into the new hope of the center-left camp. How much of that came from Ya’alon? It’s impossible to know.”
  • Most of the attention, though, goes to lawyer Ayman Abu Rieh after he was dropped by Ya’alon like a bad habit following reports of bribery allegations against him. Abu Rieh tells Army Radio that “I’m sorry they have sealed my fate and presented me as corrupt. I am indeed suspected of bribery, but this is a totally marginal affair that doesn’t come close to a tenth of Case 1000 [one of the cases against Netanyahu].”
  • Yedioth calls him “the candidate who embarrassed Ya’alon” and notes that he started his own party two years ago with the goal of dealing with Israeli Arabs “‘and not Gaza and Ramallah,’ which he said the Joint List was focused on. He said at the time that he would not hesitate to be in a coalition with Netanyahu, since Arabs are 20 percent of the nation and need to have a part in decision-making, despite Ya’alon’s stance which is against cooperating with Netanyahu.”
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