The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s developments as they unfolded.
Education Minister Yoav Gallant says schools will open in September, under strict conditions to avoid the spread of the virus.
According to the Education Ministry plan, in-person classes, including at daycares and kindergartens and through high school, will be capped at 18 students. Most students will learn part of the time online.
“We want to implement ‘half classes,'” Gallant tells reporters. “We plan to preemptively open the school year this way. That means those who will give up, to a considerable extent, their [physical] presence at school will be the older students, and those who will come are the students whose presence in school is essential to the economy,” he continues, apparently referring to young children who can’t be left home alone while parents are at work.
He says all students will come into school at least once a week.
Schools were closed in mid-March, but almost all classes were okayed to return by the second week of May, in a move that some policy experts have blamed for the resurgence of the virus. The government eventually clamped down on high school classes at the end of the school year, but has taken few steps to close or limit schools since then, allowing summer school to continue for lower grades.
Israel’s universities elect a new chairman of the Committee of University Heads, after the previous official quit in protest of government policies.
Prof. Asher Cohen, the president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, will take up the role.
His predecessor, Ron Robin, quit while comparing governmental trends in Israel to those in Turkey.
“We are witnessing attempts to take over the sciences in Israel, which are aimed at intimidating, weakening, censoring, and allowing political interests to dictate the research agenda,” Robin wrote in a letter to students and faculty at Haifa University, where he serves as president, on Tuesday. “There is a clear and immediate danger to the State of Israel and to the future of us all,” he added.
Robin said his decision to resign followed a series of steps taken by Higher Education Minister Ze’ev Elkin, the most serious of which was his decision not to keep on Michal Neumann as director of the Higher Education Council. Neumann took over for Matanyahu Englman six months ago when the latter was appointed state comptroller. Her term ends this week.
Robin claimed Elkin’s decision to get rid of Neumann was motivated by intentions to weaken the independence of the Higher Education Council — “the holy of holies whose role is to be the critical buffer between politics and science.”
Cohen applauds Robin’s protest, calling it a “brave step.”
Elkin is serving in a post that was established upon the formation of the current government earlier this year, which takes responsibilities away from the education minister and the environmental protection minister (Elkin is also the water minister).
Since assuming the role, he has clashed with members of the HEC over his support for halting on-campus exams amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Environmental Protection Ministry announces it will give NIS 10.6 million ($3 million) to authorities bordering the Mediterranean and Red seas that are willing to change their bylaws to prohibit the use of single-use plastic on beaches and to clean up stretches of coastline where bathing is not officially allowed.
Sums for each local authority will be determined by the length of unofficial coastline.
Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel says that more than 71 percent of beaches checked by the ministry during the second half of last month within the framework of the Clean Beach Index were declared to be clean, or very clean. The cleanest were in Ashdod, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Bat Yam, Acre and the area of Hof Hasharon to the north of Tel Aviv.
— Sue Surkes
The Employment Service says the number of jobless Israelis is rising, topping 21% with 853,843 unemployed.
Of those, 575,163 were placed on unpaid leave amid the pandemic.
All but two protesters detained at the demonstration outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence on Tuesday have been freed, according to Army Radio.
Police on Tuesday said one officer was lightly wounded and 50 protesters were arrested, following clashes at the demonstration.
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority submits a NIS 295,000 ($85,000) civil suit at the Beersheba District Court in southern Israel against the state-owned Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company for damage to corals caused by infrastructure works, of which it and others were found guilty in a criminal case in February.
More than 2,600 corals were damaged off the southern coastal town of Eilat, including 665 that were aged around 50 and whose rehabilitation the INPA said would take many years.
It also documented harm to many creatures whose lives depend on corals, including fish and invertebrates.
— Sue Surkes
A fire has broken out at the Enot Telem and Halilim Stream nature parks between Jerusalem and Mevasseret Zion to the city’s northwest.
Firefighters and Israel Nature and Parks Authority staff are trying to extinguish the blaze, which is currently under control.
The public is asked to keep away from the area for the next few hours.
— Sue Surkes
A security guard at the Knesset contracts COVID-19.
An epidemiological investigation to trace her contacts has been launched, reports say.
The launch of a United Arab Emirates Mars orbiter, already delayed two days, is postponed further due to bad weather at the Japanese launch site.
The orbiter named Amal, or Hope, is the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission. The launch, initially scheduled for Wednesday from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan, had already been postponed until Friday. It was delayed further on Wednesday to an unspecified date, says Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the provider of the H-IIA rocket.
The UAE mission team says on Twitter that the launch would occur later in July. Mitsubishi said it usually announces launches at least two days before the scheduled date.
Mitsubishi launch official Keiji Suzuki said earlier this week that a postponement was possible because intermittent lightning and rain were forecast over the next few days.
Heavy rain has fallen for more than a week in large areas of Japan, triggering deadly mudslides and floods on the southern main island of Kyushu.
Hope is to reach Mars in February 2021, the year the UAE celebrates 50 years since its formation. A successful Hope mission would be a major step for the oil-dependent economy seeking a future in space.
Hope carries three instruments to study the upper atmosphere and monitor climate change and is scheduled to circle the red planet for at least two years. UAE says it will provide a complete view of the Martian atmosphere during different seasons for the first time.
Two other Mars missions are planned in coming days by the US and China. Japan has its own Martian moon mission planned in 2024.
A Likud minister anonymously lashes out at a government proposal to reimpose a nationwide lockdown to quell the coronavirus outbreak.
“The number of new patients each day has remained more or less in the same place, and we can assume that in the coming days, it will drop, so what is this chutzpah of talking about a lockdown? It is, by definition, the destruction of the economy,” the minister in Netanyahu’s party tells Channel 12.
“We were there already… businesses are collapsing. How can anyone think it’s reasonable to talk about a lockdown again? And let’s say that there is a lockdown, in two weeks, they’ll open it all, and there will be infections again. We must teach the public how to live alongside the coronavirus. A lockdown that will reduce the infections is not a victory, it’s a capitulation,” the Likud minister is quoted saying.
A Blue and White coalition minister, who similarly speaks on condition of anonymity, echoes the sentiment.
“We have another few days to see the data and if the trend changes,” the minister says. “We must restore the public trust and a lockdown will only shatter it even more. So long as we can refrain from imposing a lockdown, we must hold back.”
Residents in communities near the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim near Jerusalem ask the High Court to issue a temporary stop order on moves to build a waste incineration plant on a site known as the Good Samaritan.
The residents want to force the Judea and Samaria Civil Administration, which governs Maale Adumim, as well as the Maale Adumim council and the Finance and Environmental Protection ministries, to explain how they can build such a plant before the land has been zoned for it.
More stringent requirements would come with zoning for a waste incinerator.
The project has already gone out to the preliminary stage of tender. The Civil Administration has not rezoned the site, earmarked years ago for landfill, which also means that public consultation has not been held.
The locations for another three waste incineration plants in the center of the country, not all of which will necessarily be built, were approved in principle in May by the National Planning Council.
One of the first acts of Israel’s recently appointed Environmental Protection Minister, Gila Gamliel, was to temporarily freeze ministry waste policy — including moves to build incineration plants — so that she can conduct a review.
— Sue Surkes
The novel coronavirus has killed at least 578,746 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Wednesday.
At least 13,346,550 cases have been registered in 196 countries and territories. Of these, at least 7,238,600 are now considered recovered.
The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections.
Many countries are testing only symptomatic or the most serious cases.
The United States is the worst-hit country with 136,466 deaths from 3,431,574 cases. At least 1,049,098 people have been declared recovered.
After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 74,133 deaths from 1,926,824 cases, Britain with 44,968 deaths from 291,373 cases, Mexico with 36,327 deaths from 311,486 cases and Italy with 34,984 deaths from 243,344 cases.
China — excluding Hong Kong and Macau — has to date declared 83,611 cases, including 4,634 deaths and 78,693 recoveries.
Europe overall has 203,507 deaths from 2,873,277 cases, Latin America and the Caribbean 149,392 deaths from 3,491,037 infections and the United States and Canada 145,300 deaths from 3,539,951 cases.
Asia has reported 45,452 deaths from 1,856,267 cases, the Middle East 21,220 deaths from 949,542 cases, Africa 13,735 deaths from 624,406 cases, and Oceania 140 deaths from 12,074 cases.
As a result of corrections by national authorities or late publication of data, the figures updated over the past 24 hours may not correspond exactly to the previous day’s tallies.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns the racist harassment of a Channel 13 journalist by protesters outside his home.
Avishay Ben Haim was called “Moroccan garbage” while covering the demonstration outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, which was later forcibly broken up by police.
“The shameful attack yesterday at the left-wing protests against the journalist Dr. Avishay Ben Haim, together with the violence there against police, is worthy of all condemnation,” tweets Netanyahu. “Shame and disgrace.”
Several thousand people had gathered Tuesday evening calling on Netanyahu to quit over his indictment on corruption charges, as several separate social protests took place at the same time across the country.
Some of the demonstrators attempted to break through security barriers at the scene and clashed with police. As the protest ended, hundreds moved downtown, where they blocked the light rail system, chanting “shame, shame” and “Bibi, go home.”
Diplomatic reporter Barak Ravid says he received official notice of his firing this morning from Channel 13, breaking his silence on the termination.
In a series of tweets, Ravid thanks his supporters and says he’s entertaining “several offers and interesting directions” for work.
Ravid was among nearly 40 people dismissed from the station this month, Hebrew media reported.
Anchorwoman Tali Moreno, veteran weatherman Danny Roop and political correspondent Akiva Novick were among other big names being let go. But it was Ravid’s dismissal that raised eyebrows.
In a statement to the Haaretz newspaper on July 5, Channel 13 said it was dealing with a financial streamlining process that has forced it to “bid farewell to outstanding professionals.” It said the process would be continued “within the organization, not outside it,” due to privacy concerns.
An Iranian news agency says three ships have caught fire at the Bushehr port in the south of the country, according to Reuters.
The source of the fire is not immediately identified by IRNA.
Iran has been the site of a string of mysterious blasts in recent weeks, some of which have been blamed on Israel.
— Heshmat Alavi (@HeshmatAlavi) July 15, 2020
The Iranian Tasnim news agency is now reporting that seven ships in Bushehr have been damaged by fires.
There are no immediate reports of casualties at the shipyard in southern Iran.
An Egyptian journalist arrested after appearing on the Al Jazeera network has died of the novel coronavirus, his daughter confirms, days after he was released from detention.
Mohamed Monir, 65, had been arrested in mid-June and charged with “membership of a terrorist group, dissemination of false news and improper use of social networks.”
His arrest, widely criticized by rights groups, came after he appeared on the Qatar-based satellite news channel.
Egypt labels the channel a mouthpiece for the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, a charge Doha denies.
Monir was released on July 2 but his daughter Sarah Monir announced on July 7 that he had been hospitalized with the COVID-19 illness.
In another Facebook post late Monday night, she confirmed that he had passed away.
Monir was suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and serious heart problems, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, citing Egyptian journalists who asked to remain anonymous.
Israel has started using a COVID-19 test that claims to provide results in just 15 minutes, Channel 12 reports.
A pilot program at a Lod coronavirus testing center has asked those seeking a virus test to submit to the current method, as well as the FDA-approved Sofia 2 test, the television report says.
The TV report says Israel is currently holding back on widespread use of the 15-minute test over concerns over its accuracy, citing the expedited FDA approval. If researchers analyzing the data confirm its accuracy, it could be a “game-changer,” it notes.
Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, asks Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to investigate threats against him.
“I am receiving threats of physical harm and am concerned for my well-being,” the younger Netanyahu writes in a letter, asking Mandelblit to direct the authorities to open an investigation.
The Health Ministry instructs Israel’s HMOs to stop conducting coronavirus tests on those who are not displaying any symptoms of the virus, with some exceptions.
Those living with someone who was diagnosed with the disease and workers who engage with high-risk populations (such as in nursing homes) can still be tested, even if they have no symptoms.
The Health Ministry order also gives some leeway — up to 5,000 daily tests — to medical professionals to test asymptomatic populations at their discretion.
The order comes as labs have complained of being overwhelmed by the tests, which have been ramped up to over 20,000 daily.
In a mass infection, 44 high school students are diagnosed with COVID-19 after two end-of-year parties, according to Army Radio.
The first party took place in Ashkelon earlier this month, and was followed by an “after party” three days later in Ashdod by the same group, the report says.
The parties were held in violation of Health Ministry rules on gatherings.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch traveled to the COVID-19 testing station in Lod earlier today to observe the pilot program of the Sofia test, which beams back virus results within 15 minutes, the ministry confirms.
Magen David Adom medics tried out the FDA-approved test on patients at the station, alongside the usual testing for COVID-19.
It’s unclear how many of these tests Israel has purchased and whether it will meet the country’s standards to be rolled out for general use.
The National Association of Nurses announces it will launch a strike on Monday, in protest of manpower shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, which they say have made it impossible to continue their work.
The labor action will affect hospitals, HMOs, and other medical institutions.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the United States will ban visas to some employees of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, which Washington is seeking to isolate.
“The State Department will impose visa restrictions on certain employees of the Chinese technology companies like Huawei that provide material support to regimes engaging in human rights violations and abuses,” Pompeo tells a news conference.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana (Likud), who oversees the police, condemns the left-wing protest outside the Prime Minister’s Residence on Tuesday.
“What we saw yesterday was anarchy,” he says, calling the demonstrators “agents of chaos seeking to sow panic and venom in the public.”
Ohana claims the “incitement” against former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in the run-up to his murder pales in comparison to the threats against Netanyahu.
Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a far-right Jewish extremist.
Tuesday night’s rally ended with clashes between police and protesters and with 50 demonstrators arrested. Most have since been freed.
Speaking to reporters, Ohana also says he’ll name a candidate for permanent police commissioner within 30 days.
He also condemns police violence against protesters and says the force has “what to fix” to correct the issue.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz warns Israelis the country could be heading to a partial or full lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
In an interview with the Kan public broadcaster, an excerpt of which was aired in a preview, Gantz says: “I want the public to know that there could be a situation in which we will need to return to a partial lockdown or a full lockdown, or to step up the restrictions.”
He predicts the coronavirus could remain a threat “for a year and a half or even more.”
The full interview will be aired on Kan’s nightly news.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says “we are doing everything we can” to avoid a nationwide lockdown.
But he warns it’s a possibility, and other steps may not suffice.
Edelstein says that Israel will slide toward a lockdown if the government doesn’t take immediate action. He says they’ll know in three or four days.
“If there’s a medical miracle” and the infection rates plummet, “maybe we won’t get to a lockdown,” he remarks, speaking to reporters.
Edelstein also rules out handing over the control over the pandemic response to the IDF or another organization, saying: “I am responsible for the event, I have the authority, and I take upon myself all the responsibility.”
The latest modeling projects the number of COVID-19 deaths in the US to increase further, even as one research team suggests the near-universal use of masks could save 40,000 lives between now and November.
The death toll stands at 136,000 Wednesday, but the country should hit 151,000 by August 1 and 157,000 by August 8, according to an average of models of 23 research groups in the United States and elsewhere.
The figures were published by the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Reich lab on Tuesday on behalf of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A week ago, this average predicted 147,000 deaths on August 1.
California, Florida and Texas, the three most populous states in the country, will see one thousand more deaths over the next four weeks compared to the previous four, said Professor Nicholas Reich.
The University of Washington’s IHME model, goes further and predicted Wednesday 224,000 deaths on November 1.
Another, by independent modeler Youyang Gu, in New York, predicts 227,000 deaths by November 1.
According to the IHME group, more Americans are wearing masks, and fewer are leaving their homes.
The model has access to GPS data through commercial partners.
“If 95 percent of Americans wore masks when leaving their homes, that number (of deaths) would drop by more than 40,000,” the research center said.
The Finance Ministry and National Economic Council are fighting over a plan to give stipends to Israeli families amid the pandemic, says a TV report.
According to Channel 13, the National Economic Council’s Avi Simhon is preparing a NIS 6 billion plan ($1.75 billion), which would be distributed to Israeli households.
It envisions that couples with one child will receive a one-time payment of NIS 2,000 ($583), which rises to NIS 2,500 ($729) for those with two children, and NIS 3,000 ($875) for those with three or more. Households without children will receive NIS 750 ($218), the report says.
But the Finance Ministry is staunchly against the plan, the report says.
Florida reports more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases Wednesday and reaches 300,000 total infections.
Florida has 10,181 confirmed cases and a total of 301,810 since the outbreak began there March 1. The state confirmed 112 deaths — the third time in the last seven days it has eclipsed 100 – and 4,626 total COVID-19 deaths.
Florida’s rolling seven-day average for deaths has increased to 92 per day, triple the 31 posted a month ago.
As of Tuesday, Florida had the No. 2 death rate in the United States, slightly behind Texas.
When the coronavirus was ravaging New York three months ago, it recorded 799 deaths on April 9 and a top seven-day average of 763 deaths on April 14.
Israeli soldiers arrest four Palestinians armed with firebombs and an explosive device, which the military says it believes they planned to use to carry out a terror attack.
The military says the suspects are arrested outside of Nablus in the northern West Bank. Two Molotov cocktails and the bomb are found in their possession, the Israel Defense Forces says.
The four suspects were handed over to the Shin Bet security service for further investigation.
“The IDF will continue to preserve the security of the area and will thwart attempted terror attacks,” the military says.
— Judah Ari Gross
Global stock markets get a shot in the arm from hopes for a coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday, with the outlook for more US financial stimulus adding to the brighter mood.
Optimism was sparked by US biotech firm Moderna saying the final stage of human trials for a COVID-19 vaccine would start at the end of the month, after a report said first stage tests had been a success.
The news follows an announcement from Pfizer and BioNTech that two of four candidates for treatment had received “Fast Track” designation from US officials.
European markets were as much as two percent higher at the close, outperforming the Dow on Wall Street which had retreated from opening gains by the late New York morning.
Providing added support were signs that the US might add to its stimulus after reports said top Republicans were reconsidering their opposition to it.
Trillions of dollars pledged by the US and other governments and central banks around the world have been a key driver of the rally in stock markets from their March lows — but one that is weighing on the US currency.
Strong US industrial output numbers released shortly before the New York opening bell added to the better mood on trading floors.
The Health Ministry records another 1,308 new coronavirus cases since its 11 p.m. update last night, as the number of serious cases continues to rise.
According to the ministry figures, of the 23,399 active cases, 205 are in serious condition and 57 of them are on ventilators. Another 105 are in moderate condition.
The death toll remains at 375.
According to the ministry data, 1,400 new cases have been diagnosed in Jerusalem in a week, 702 in Bnei Brak, 623 in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, and 439 in Beitar Illit.
The ministry says 31,392 tests were conducted on Tuesday.
The Knesset elects Likud MK Osnat Mark and Derech Eretz MK Zvi Hauser to the judicial appointments panel, in a victory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The coalition lawmakers beat out former justice minister Ayelet Shaked of the opposition’s Yamina, who had sought a seat on the committee.
The lawmakers were chosen by a secret ballot.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz will hold a press conference later this evening at 8:45 p.m. Israel time, the Prime Minister’s Office says.
Hebrew media reports say the announcement will address government stipends to all citizens to help weather the coronavirus crisis.
A NIS 6 billion plan ($1.75 billion) will see all Israelis receive a NIS 750 ($218) check from the government, with families eligible to receive up to NIS 3,000 ($875), reports say.
The Finance Ministry opposes the plan on the grounds that it does not differentiate between those in financial need and those who aren’t, the reports say.
Channel 12 reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered former Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov a new position that would see him oversee the government’s response to the pandemic.
Bar Siman-Tov, who was lauded for his efforts to contain the virus in the first wave of the pandemic, has declined, the report says.
The Palestinian Authority records a total of 8,153 coronavirus infections, the vast majority in the last month, as new outbreaks appear across the West Bank.
The PA health ministry says it has confirmed 234 new cases of the novel coronavirus in the West Bank today. An additional 185 cases were identified in Israeli-controlled East Jerusalem, which the PA counts in its official statistics.
While Hebron governorate still has the vast majority of active cases, only 50 new cases were recorded there on Wednesday. Another 181 new cases were identified in Ramallah-alBireh governorate, where the refugee camps in the surrounding area have seen outbreaks, according to numbers released by PA government spokesperson Ibrahim Milhim.
Even as cases mount, however, restaurant owners take to the streets of Ramallah on Wednesday to protest the lockdown, possibly encouraged by the PA’s loosening of restrictions after similar protests by merchants in Hebron and Ramallah.
The PA is scheduled to remain in lockdown for the next two weeks, with pharmacies, bakeries and “small shops” allowed to operate.
The total number of active cases in the PA is 5,936, with 43 deaths in the West Bank since the start of the pandemic.
— Aaron Boxerman
Blue and White, Netanyahu’s main coalition partner, is also criticizing the government plan to issue checks to all Israelis, regardless of income.
“Any effort that will strengthen Israelis economically is welcome, but it must be anchored in a responsible and long-term plan that will ensure that their livelihoods will be preserved next year as well,” it says.
“With regard to the grants, Blue and White supports sending money directly to Israeli citizens, but it must be done with an emphasis on those whose livelihoods were harmed — the unemployed and families in need. We will discuss this further in the government.”
A representative for self-employed Israelis hit hard financially by the pandemic seethes at the prospective of government stipends for all, regardless of income.
“It is a surreal decision to give money to people who don’t need it, instead of people who are crying out. The independent sector is bleeding. Enough of the cheap populism and shooting from the hip. The streets are on fire. We need real solutions,” says Roi Cohen, according to Channel 12.
Ministers on Sunday approved one-off stipends of up to NIS 7,500 ($2,170) for self-employed Israelis and business owners. But many received notification that the amount they would actually receive was less than NIS 2,000 ($580), stoking anger. The money arrived in their bank accounts today, Channel 12 notes.
The meeting between finance officials on the government proposal to issue stipends for all Israeli citizens devolved into a screaming match, with yelling heard in nearby offices, reports Channel 12.
Shaul Meridor, the head of the Finance Ministry’s budget division, warns during the meeting: “This is not a very smart way to distribute money.”
“We need to be careful not to be Venezuela,” he says, according to the TV report, referring to the country’s difficulties in raising money because of financial impropriety.
The report says no Bank of Israel representatives were involved in the formulation of the plan.
At a press conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces the government will distribute stipends to all Israelis. He says it is “a complementary step,” in addition to other aid packages, including stipends paid out this week to small businesses and independent businesspeople.
“The second wave, this wave, has already come. We are fighting it with determination, we are fighting it with unity,” he says.
“I hear your distress. You’re not alone,” he says.
All Israelis above 18 years of age will receive NIS 750, he announces.
Netanyahu says a family with one child will receive NIS 2,000, with two children NIS 2,500, and those with three children and more NIS 3,000.
“We must get the economy moving. People are sitting at home, they aren’t consuming,” he says, adding that these funds are to encourage more local consumerism.
He urges Israelis to buy domestically produced products, “blue and white,” to “get the wheels rolling.”
He urges Israeli politicians to quickly support the plan.
He says he’s sure the whole government will approve it, and hopes it won’t prove necessary to anchor it in new legislation, since that will take time. He wants to “quickly get it to all Israeli households,” he says. “If we start arguing about why, it will take longer — weeks, I hope not months… We’ll never get it done,” he adds.
“We need to get the wheels moving and make sure nobody falls between the cracks.”
Netanyahu says the government is still hoping to fend off a full nationwide closure, and promises new steps in the next 48 hours to “flatten the curve” of new infections.
“We are doing everything to avoid a full lockdown,” says Netanyahu, but adds this requires public discipline.
“We must transform the directions of the Health Ministry into a way of life,” he says.
“Change your way of life,” adds Netanyahu. “Don’t be tempted to evade the restrictions.”
He cites reports of a young American man who was infected, said he thought it was all a conspiracy, and acknowledged, before he died, that he was wrong. “The conspiracy industry exists in Israel, too,” he laments.
He castigates “representatives” who have called for civil rebellion against the guidelines, and calls this deserving of the fullest condemnation.
He says “we’re also working on a long-term plan for the safe reopening of the economy, so we can deal with the coronavirus for all long as necessary — six months, a year, even more than a year.”
Netanyahu also condemns close-packed protests, including a demonstration outside his home, as a “real danger” to public health.
“People are getting infected at these protests because they are not keeping their distance, and then infecting others; it’s a disaster, simply a disaster,” he says.
He also condemns “violence against police and against citizens” at these demonstrations. “We must not deteriorate into internal hatred. We mustn’t go there. We have to deepen the unity, protect the home, and together we will fight corona and beat it.”
Taking questions, Netanyahu says the government’s main mistake in reopening the economy was permitting gatherings and opening event halls. He says that when he told Israelis they could go back out and have fun, he didn’t tell them to break the rules.
“Where in my opinion we did something that proved incorrect: Opening the event halls and the gatherings,” he says. “Breaking the rules, and the gatherings, these things lead to disaster.”
The prime minister also addresses fights between Finance Ministry officials and the government over the handout plan.
“This is not the first time I’ve argued with bureaucrats. Many bureaucrats argue with my requests, but in the end the responsibility is mine,” he says.
“I think this is essential,” he says, referring to the stipends plan.
Netanyahu, a former finance minister, says he doesn’t need “lectures” on the economy from the Finance Ministry or anybody else.
He cites his 25 years of economic oversight, rescuing the Israeli economy and turning it into a world leader. “This is a different reality. If we don’t get the economy moving, and make sure all citizens get [help] — some need it less and some need it more, but let’s get it going — if we start arguing about who gets the money, we’ll never got it going.”
He adds: “And if it turns out we gave a little more than was necessary, that is a tiny mistake compared to not giving enough.”
“In the future there will be more steps,” he stresses.
Asked if he was playing election economics, seeking a new election, he answers: “The opposite; really not. These are steps to get the economy moving, to create employment.”
He acknowledges that the current reality, and the steps the government is taking, “create a budgetary hole…and a certain amount of uncertainty.”
Nobody knows how things will play out in the coming months, and therefore long-term budgetary planning is impossible, he indicates.
Netanyahu says he isn’t ignoring the country’s financial deficit. But he says the huge amount of uncertainty about the future requires the government to take immediate action.
“We don’t know what will happen to the global economy,” he says.
As of June 30, Israel’s deficit stands at 6.4% of GDP, or $16.9 billion, according to the Finance Ministry.
Finance Minister Israel Katz signals he opposes a nationwide closure.
“I personally think you shouldn’t close the economy under any circumstances. The prime minister also thinks so,” he says.