Lives on the line: 6 things to know for January 6
Israel media review

Lives on the line: 6 things to know for January 6

The stunning failure of rescue services to respond to a Tel Aviv couple who drowned in an elevator grips Hebrew media; country remains on high alert amid fears of Iranian reprisal

Rescue teams and security forces at the scene where a man and a woman drowned after they were trapped in an elevator that became engulfed by floodwaters in Tel Aviv on January 4, 2020. (Flash90)
Rescue teams and security forces at the scene where a man and a woman drowned after they were trapped in an elevator that became engulfed by floodwaters in Tel Aviv on January 4, 2020. (Flash90)

1. Hold the phone: The drowning deaths of a young couple in a flooded elevator in Tel Aviv over the weekend continue to dominate the agenda on Monday, with the failure of police and firefighters to respond for some 90 minutes eliciting widespread horror and condemnation.

  • Yedioth establishes a timeline of the authorities’ missteps under a front-page headline: “The failure and the horrible death.”
  • The first call to police and firefighters came at 12:23 p.m. on Saturday, and was unanswered. At 12:42 p.m., the emergency services picked up the phone and were alerted by residents of the building that the man and woman were trapped in the elevator. But the responder closed the complaint, calling it a “mistake.” The desperate neighbors, who were communicating with the trapped couple, ran outside. A woman located a firetruck on the block and pulled a firefighter into the building at 1:08 p.m. Five minutes later, the firefighter called for backup. But the rescue crews only arrived at 1:51 p.m., 90 minutes after the first call. By then, the trapped couple was unresponsive.
  • The two victims, Din Shoshani and Stav Harari, both 25, were buried side by side in a funeral attended by thousands, reports Yedioth.
  • “You only moved into the apartment in Hatikva a few months ago, you made a home as sweet and modest as you both were. You loved to host people and make them happy, and now you are buried together, together forever… How much love you two shared. I am certain you passed in an embrace,” Shoshani’s sister Eden says at the funeral.
  • Another victim of torrential rains over the weekend is spotlighted by the papers: Eran Hershtadt, 72, whose car was swept into a riverbed amid flooding in Binyamina.

2. Quds it happen here? The expected Iranian retaliation to the US drone strike that killed top general Qassem Soleimani also features prominently in Monday’s dailies, with the papers wondering whether Israel will be targeted in the reprisal.

  • “In Israel, they are taking very seriously the statements by Iranian officials that it will be harmed by the retaliation against the killing of Quds Revolutionary Guards force commander Qassem Soleimani,” reports Israel Hayom.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will convene the high-level security cabinet on the threat on Monday afternoon, after postponing the meeting from Sunday, it reports.
  • Israeli diplomats around the world were placed on high alert, the second level before the highest, it also says.
  • And northern and southern Israel, which border Iran-backed proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, were similarly tense, though residents were urged to carry on as usual.
  • The Yedioth Ahronoth paper also features a column by a Tehran resident, identified as a 32-year-old journalist Abbas-Fazar Muhammadi, who warns that Israel is widely seen as having played a role in the operation.
  • “Those who are angry over Soleimani’s assassination will see Israel as involved in it. This is also the reason they torched Israeli flags alongside American ones following the assassination…. It’s possible they [Israel] supplied information, it’s possible they recruited people or singled out certain individuals for the Americans. This was an operation that was carried out under shrouds of secrecy after much preparation. Here, many are certain Israel was in the picture. Fact: Your prime minister gave a thick hint that ‘something big happened’ even before the reports came out in Washington of the assassination.”
  • It is not immediately clear what he’s referring to, as Netanyahu does not appear to have made any such statement.
  • In Haaretz, Amos Harel writes that security experts believe Iran will be forced to retaliate, but will seek targets that won’t drag it into a broader conflict with the United States. This is due “to the immense gap in the military capabilities of the two countries, and over concerns about the unpredictable behavior of the US president, Donald Trump.”

3. No mercy: In Yedioth Ahronoth, columnist Ben Dror-Yemini goes after Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar for referring to Soleimani as a “foreign official” in a tweet and expressing “outrage” over the US strike that killed him.

  • Soleimani is the “angel of death,” responsible for the deaths of thousands, mostly Muslims, he writes.
  • “Had Ilhan claimed: True, this is a mass murderer, but we should have dealt with his murderous [ways], in another way — okay then. The problem is that the Ilhan-ism did not remain on the fringes of the Democratic Party in the United States. It’s spreading. Candidates from the Democratic Party preferred to condemn Trump, who dared to respond.”

4. Selling the farm: Haaretz meanwhile highlights Netanyahu’s shameless appointment of another lawmaker facing bribery charges, Likud MK David Bitan, to the post of agriculture minister.

  • While he has denied any wrongdoing, Bitan, 59, stepped down from his role as coalition whip in 2017 shortly after news of the police investigation broke.
  • Netanyahu’s cabinet features two other ministers who police recommended stand trial for corruption: Interior Minister Aryeh Deri of Shas and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism. Likud MK Haim Katz stepped down as welfare minister in August after the attorney general announced corruption charges against him.
  • The appointment of Bitan is “nothing less than disturbed,” cries the paper’s Yossi Verter. “It does not have one shred of rationality.”
  • Netanyahu was forced to relinquish several cabinet posts over his own criminal charges. He also appointed Likud’s Tzipi Hotovely as Diaspora affairs minister. Shas MK Yitzhak Cohen was tapped as housing minister, taking the position from Kulanu-turned-Likud MK Yifat Shasa-Biton, who has instead been moved to the top post in the Welfare Ministry.

5. Fear, loathing, and immunity: Verter also implores Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to cede to what is apparently the majority opinion in the Knesset and allow the formation of the parliamentary House Committee that will debate, and reject, Netanyahu’s request for immunity.

  • “Edelstein does not need to accept [Knesset legal adviser Eyal] Yinon’s opinion, but he cannot ignore the request of the majority of the Knesset. It would be spitting in the face of the legislature, which is built not only on laws but also on conduct and agreements and the rules of the game. This is what [President and former Likud Knesset speaker] Rubi Rivlin would have done,” he writes in Haaretz.
  • Netanyahu has sought to delay the immunity vote until after the March 2 election, since a majority of the current Knesset lawmakers opposes it. It remains unclear whether Edelstein, a Likud member, will step aside to let the vote go ahead or obstruct it.
  • Addressing the parliamentary push to reject Netanyahu’s bid to be shielded from prosecution, columnist Mati Tuchfeld in the pro-Netanyahu paper Israel Hayom echoes the premier’s famous election taunt about the left being A-F-R-A-I-D.
  • “The insistence by Blue and White on removing the prime minister’s immunity before elections is liable to be perceived as a success in dominating the agenda, a critical issue during a campaign. But first and foremost it exposes their total lack of faith in themselves and their prospects of beating Netanyahu at the ballot box, without artillery backup from the legal system. Netanyahu’s pressure, the threats on Yuli Edelstein, the obsessive letters to the Knesset legal adviser and the joined forces with Avigdor Liberman tomorrow, and later the Democratic Camp and Joint List for the same goal, seem less like a determined fight and more like outright fear.”
  • In its editorial, the left-wing Haaretz urges the warring left-wing parties to unite under a joint list, citing Netanyahu’s plans to build an “immunity” coalition.  “The leaders of Meretz and Labor must recognize the danger they face. The two parties must merge as a technical bloc and run together in the upcoming elections. If they run separately, and one of them doesn’t cross the electoral threshold, it will be on their heads.”

6. Solidarity, Shmolidarity: Notably absent in the Monday papers is much ink on the Jewish solidarity march in New York that drew tens of thousands, following a spate of anti-Semitic attacks.

  • Yedioth and Israel Hayom bury the story on pages 21 and 20, while Haaretz makes no mention of the march.
  • In Jerusalem, hundreds gathered for a rally in solidarity with the solidarity “No Hate. No Fear” march in New York.
  • But, the New York Times reports, even as the march spotlighted hatred against Jews, it did not offer a salve for existing tensions among Jewish communities.  “Few people from the Hasidic community, which has been targeted in the recent attacks, attended the event on Sunday. Some Hasidic leaders publicly criticized several of the Jewish organizers, who they say do not support the deeply conservative Hasidic practices, underscoring tensions that exist within the wider Jewish community,” it reports.
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