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Israel media review

Learning the hard way: What the press is saying on October 28

In Israel, you can’t please any of the people any of the time. Or at least that’s how it seems, with lockdown exit plans buffeted by criticism from all sides

Education Minister Yoav Galant at a school in Safed on October 27, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Education Minister Yoav Galant at a school in Safed on October 27, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

1. Opening act: Some people just can’t be pleased. With infections continuing to drop, the clamor for everything to reopen is only growing, and fast.

  • Israel hasn’t yet hit stage two of the nine-part lockdown exit, but Channel 13 reports that the Health Ministry is pushing a six-stage version to replace it, with storefronts, guest cottages and sports returning by mid-November, and gyms and restaurants back open by the end of the month.
  • By year’s end, according to the report, weddings and sporting events with crowds will be allowed, thus completing the exit.
  • Health Ministry director general Chezy Levy tells Army Radio that “the next stage is already more businesses, malls, more activities for people who gather … We were doing it carefully… a beauty salon, a barber, cosmetician, things like that, smaller, one by one, the next stage will be bigger.”
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, Sever Plotzker writes about his worries over that exact scenario, fretting that Israel will undo its gains in getting the virus under control: “What do we need [from the government]? Not much. Speak the truth and don’t cave to populism… A courageous government truly caring for the health of the people needs to give a big ‘no’ now. No to opening stores, no matter where. No to opening hotels, restaurants, vacation sites (and close what are already open), event halls, pools, ritual baths. But yes to tripling fines for breaking the rules.”
  • Good luck with that. Israel Hayom reports on the many business owners begging to open as they struggle to make ends meet: “I haven’t worked since the start of the second lockdown. I’m trying to survive, getting help from parents, but there are amounts that I need to pay to suppliers and income taxes,” an Ashdod jewelry store owner says. “I don’t understand why nail salons, barbers and all these ‘one at a time’ businesses can open, and I can’t. Look, I keep the guidelines.”’
  • Those who have already been okayed to open on Sunday, like beauty salon people, personal trainers, driving teachers and others, also have a bone to pick, Channel 12 reports.
  • “In the last month and a half nobody from the government has come to speak to me about grants, about anything,” a barber from Rishon Lezion tells the station. “All my savings, all my pension has been taken out. I’m withdrawing money to keep myself, my household, going. They simply pulverized me. That we are returning on Sunday is the least of all evils.”
  • Perhaps hurting his chances for sympathy though, he goes on to carp that “from a financial perspective, they are giving me NIS 7,000 [a month]. That is nowhere near my annual intake of NIS 600,000.” (In case you are wondering, that’s NIS 50,000 or $14,750 a month, just a tad above the average salary of NIS 11,000 ($3,250) and enough to put him in the top 5% of earners in the country.)
  • If a month and a half is too long, what’s five years. That’s how long futurist David Passig says it will take for Israel to start to truly recover from the pandemic: “The percentage of infections will rise and fall until summer 2022, and only in 2025 will there be a significant deterioration of the virus,” he tells Globes.
  • “The next decade will be the 21st century’s lost decade, during which dangers will pile up — including violent confrontations between countries in our region and world powers,” the cheery Passig adds.

2. My way or the highway: If that’s not sanguine enough, there are also people who have taken to voting against their own interests when they don’t get exactly what they want.

  • While Knesset committees have been seen as a populist redoubt raging against the government, on Wednesday morning one of them is responsible for voting to cancel plans to allow schools to resume by teaching kids outdoors, which would give them the extra space needed for pods for upper grades.
  • The issue? They want more than 15 kids per capsule, as many as possible. Or as committee head Ram Shefa puts the comedy of errors to Kan: “The Health Ministry told the committee yesterday that it is basing its figures on the Education Ministry saying that there are 45 kids per class, and so they divided them into capsules of 15. But what do to about the fact that there is a law against more than 40 kids in a class? The whole decision was based on a mistake … Any citizen has the right to gather in groups of 20. Only 5th-12th grade classes are not allowed to because of ridiculousness that nobody can explain.”
  • Haaretz reports that Health Ministry official Efrat Aflalo told lawmakers that she didn’t think she needed to second guess the Education Ministry’s class-size report. She also says that the Health Ministry wanted a smaller group of kids, but raised it at the Education Ministry’s request first to nine kids per pod and then 15. “We are not willing to go beyond that,” she says.
  • Army Radio reports that another Knesset committee voted against a plan to take the burden off paying for workers in isolation off of small businesses. The problem: The Finance Ministry and MK Keren Barak came up with a compromise to have the state pay the whole cost for businesses of 10 employees or fewer, while committee head Haim Katz is demanding it include all businesses of 23 employees or fewer. The result: No soup for anybody.
  • Finance Minister Israel Katz himself voted against his interests, according to Channel 13, which reports that at a recent cabinet meeting he voted against opening barbershops, et al, to protest the fact that all not all public-facing businesses would be okayed to open Sunday.

3. Mind the gaps: The issue of putting pupils in a pod outdoors remains just one of a host of problems, arguments and complaints plaguing plans for the return to school.

  • As local authorities seek to wrest power from the government and find their own ways to open first and second grades for the full week while keeping the kids in capsules, teachers union head Yifat Ben David tells Kan that nobody from her shops gives a damn what some mayor has to say.
  • “Our employer is the state, the education minister,” she says. “We won’t let the state abandon the education system and privatize it. There’s competition between mayors and pressure on principals. There’s one boss here — the Education Ministry.”
  • She sharpens her attacks in an interview with Ynet: “We won’t allow this anarchy… The local councils are not our employers, mayors cannot change our employment conditions willy-nilly. We aren’t under the Turkish sultan or British Mandate.”
  • Too late. A Tel Aviv teacher tells Haaretz that some local authorities’ announcements that they are opening schools have created a race for everyone else to catch up.
  • “Parents are going around with the sense that they have to make demands and stretch the limits and get more, due to the fact that a nearby school or nearby town has managed to provide five days a week of class,” she says, “and the pressure is on the teachers.”
  • Add to that the fact that moving education into local hands has sparked worries of increasing socioeconomic gaps. Walla reports that Arab towns, which are generally not as well off as Jewish ones, will be the most likely to lose out.
  • “We don’t have enough classroom space on a normal day,” Mudar Younis, head of an association of local Arab authorities, tells the news site. “This will create inequality between Jewish and Arab societies. The Jews will learn the whole week and the Arabs only half a week. There’s a serious gap between students.”
  • An incomplete map published by Yedioth supposedly showing all the places where locals are planning on having full-week school for the whippersnappers in fact includes several Arab towns. But the paper notes that capsules or no, those gaps have already been growing, thanks to the ability of richer parents to hire tutors and the like for their kids.
  • “How are we managing? We aren’t managing,” says one mom who works from home and pays for private teachers for her two kids. “We’re managing because we have no choice. Every kid has their own computer. The big one… doesn’t ask for help and locks himself in his room, but the little one is having trouble. I don’t have time to teach her.”
  • An 11th grader who is forced to share her computer with her brother in 10th grade tells the paper that she “feels the gap” between her and better-off classmates.
  • “There are kids whose parents are always home, or who have money and can pay for tutors. My mom can’t sit with me because she is at work all day and I don’t have a tutor with me. I have no support, and it’s made my learning success much more difficult and complicated.”

4. Cold Turkey: The Turkish sultan might be gone, but Israel is paying plenty of attention to what is happening in Turkey, or between Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and France.

  • Drawings of a googly-eyed Erdogan in his tighty whities lifting the skirt of a Muslim woman going commando grace not only the cover of Charlie Hebdo,but also several Israeli news sites, which take interest in the spat.
  • “Erdogan in his underwear: Turkey fumes at France,” reads an Israel Hayom headline.
  • “The new cover of the satirical magazine is expected to pour fuel on the fire after the war of words between Erdogan, [Emmanuel] Macron and others in Europe recently,” reports Walla.
  • Haaretz’s Zvi Barel takes the spat between Erdogan and Europe into a wider context beyond the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty.
  • “Erdogan, who in recent years has posited himself as a representative of the Muslims and Islam, and is trying to sideline his rival, Saudi Arabia, as the country responsible for the holy places in Islam, was unable to ignore Macron’s claims and intentions,” he writes.
  • But wait, there’s more: “Macron is leading the aggressive European policy against Turkey’s military involvement in Libya, mainly because Turkey supports the recognized Libyan government, while France supports the isolationist general Khalifa Hafter,” he writes, going through other places in which Paris and Ankara are on opposite sides. “For Erdogan, the gas drilling, and the military intervention in Libya, Syria and Azerbaijan, are vital components of a strategy designed to reinforce Turkey’s status as a world power rather than a regional one. He is trying to lower the status of the pro-American Arab coalition built by Saudi Arabia and is undeterred by a clash with Russia and the United States, with the former regarding Nagorno-Karabakh and Syria, and the latter regarding the purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles.”
  • What does all this have to do with Israel? Not much, though in the New York Times, French defense analyst François Heisbourg posits that protests around the world against France may be a way for local leaders to release pressure caused by “the ambivalence of much of the Muslim world about some Arab countries moving to recognize Israel,” as the Times puts it.

5. The state of the vote: US election fever is also not going anywhere. Trump-loving Israel Hayom again leads the way.

  • “Closing in on the goal,” reads a headline of a Boaz Bismuth dispatch, and he’s not talking about Joe Biden winning the Oval Office.
  • “Just before leaving, [Trump] attacked Biden for hiding in his basement and expressed pride in discomfiting him. ‘Sleepy Joe rushed to get to Pennsylvania because he saw that we had 25,000 people at my rally,’ Trump said,” Bismuth reports from Pennsylvania, where he has become a Trump rally groupie. “On Tuesday, Biden was in Georgia at another ‘drive-in’ rally, because he thinks he has a real chance of nibbling away at the Republican South. It could be that the Democrats are wasting precious resources and even showing hubris, but we’ll know in a week.”
  • In Haaretz’s op-ed section, Alexander Griffing writes that fears of Trump winning despite being behind in the polls may be dispelled by the upswell against him in some corners of the GOP.
  • “While Biden is poised to out-perform Hillary Clinton’s 2016 showing with young, minority and independent voters, groups of conservatives long disillusioned with the Trump GOP are making inroads in consciously pushing older, religious and suburban voters toward Biden – or at least, away from Trump,” he writes.
  • Yedioth’s Shai Bezeq says Israel needs to start preparing for the very real possibility that Biden will win: “The most essential diplomatic, security and financial issues for Israel — the Iranian threat, Hezbollah, peace deal with the Gulf, the Palestinians — could stand in a completely different place in a Biden administration than where it does now… The view of Israel in the Middle East, which until now was seen mostly through the prism of the Palestinians, and which has started to change thanks to the treaties with the UAE and Bahrain, can be reversed if Biden changes policies or his order of priorities. Israel needs to get ready for this, with the US and with Europe.”
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