Lock blockers: What the press is saying on September 7
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Israel media review

Lock blockers: What the press is saying on September 7

Netanyahu is raked over the coals for endangering the whole country after the ultra-Orthodox force him to fold on a plan to put lockdowns on some cities

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hosted by Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party (left), at a meal to celebrate the birth of Litzman's grandson, June 18, 2017. (Shlomi Cohen/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hosted by Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party (left), at a meal to celebrate the birth of Litzman's grandson, June 18, 2017. (Shlomi Cohen/FLASH90)

1. The curfewffle: After a day of threats from the ultra-Orthodox community, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to walk back government plans to impose lockdowns on high infection areas.

  • It’s taken as pretty much a given that the government decision to impose nighttime curfews instead of lockdowns is not the result of sound health policy, but rather of Netanyahu caving to ultra-Orthodox pressure.
  • “After ultra-Orthodox pressure: Ministers decide on a night curfew and closing schools in 42 cities,” reads a headline in Walla news.
  • “Netanyahu caves to the ultra-Orthodox,” reads a much blunter headline in Ynet.
  • “Ultra-Orthodox anger broke out, and Netanyahu was forced to bend,” reads the headline of a page 2 column in Israel Hayom (though its news story makes the connection less clear).
  • Channel 12 news only blames “political pressure,” but in a story going through what it says is the collapse of coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu’s “traffic light” plan, the ultra-Orthodox play an outsize role in its defeat. One gets the sense from reading the piece that the plan never stood a chance, with the channel tracing its evolution over the past week as ministers and others chipped away at it, including in the very moments it was approved.
  • “Last Sunday, the coronavirus cabinet decided — after three delays — to approve the traffic light plan. The plan that was approved was softened and did not include any commitment to shut schools or place closures in cases of spiking infections in areas,” it reports. “Despite Gamzu’s desire for unified guidelines, they decided that there would be different rules for prayer, for cultural events and for events in open spaces. They also decided that the plan would not cover schools, transportation, workplaces, welfare agencies, nature reserves, heritage sites, museums, malls, planned events and essential businesses, such as pharmacies and groceries.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth tells a similar story, except it condenses it down to about 50 words and sticks them all on its front page in the least appealing way possible.
  • Inside, though, columnist Sima Kadmon clarifies that “one letter from Haredi mayors of Bnei Brak, Emmanuel, Beitar Ilit and Elad, which vowed not to cooperate with the closure and threatened that Haredim would settle accounts with the prime minister at the ballot box, brought down [Gamzu’s] whole plan which was carefully and responsibly built, and managed to force Netanyahu to cave.”
  • Shas Minister Uri Makleb, however, is appalled that the ultra-Orthodox would be accused of pressuring Netanyahu.
  • “Why don’t they say that businesses, like restaurants and event halls, put pressure, and when we ministers within the government do it they say we put pressure,” he pouts to Kan radio.

2. Keep on truckling: If Netanyahu thought his troubles were over now that he turned the Haredi frowns upside down, the press has another think coming for him.

  • “Thanks to Netanyahu’s petty politics, Israel’s population may be in for collective punishment,” reads a headline in Haaretz.
  • The paper’s Yossi Verter accuses Netanyahu of being a serial yellowbelly when it comes to being pressed. “Many have seen him act under pressure. Nerves of steel he does not have … and Netanyahu never misses a chance to prove the jabs correct. He has a respectable record of folding … This time is different, though. He used to be alarmed by the anger rising from his base, now he caved to others. And he did it over a matter of life and death, literally.”
  • “An embarrassment. A fire sale of the national interest. There’s no other way to put it,” fumes Ben-Dror Yemini in Yedioth.
  • In Israel Hayom, Ran Reznick writes that “Israel seems now like a country expending all of its energy fleeing from the news it is not ready to hear: the urgent need to place an immediate full lockdown, and not just at night, on at least 30 cities, neighborhoods and towns defined as red. And if not, maybe in any case we’ll need to put restrictive measures and ongoing closures on the whole country over the holidays.”
  • “The corona has revealed the truth: Netanyahu abandoned the country,” Channel 12’s Dana Weiss writes. “The coronavirus has proven beyond a doubt that this is a messed up country. A country where we’ve gotten used to living with logic that’s totally determined by political considerations. With communities that act with laws of their own.”

3. If you’re already caving: And if Netanyahu thought that he would at least have the Haredi monkey off his back, well….

  • Shas leader Aryeh Deri tells Channel 13 that even after getting Netanyahu to shelve the lockdown, he still won’t vote in favor of the curfews on ultra-Orthodox towns, and will push for schools to stay open.
  • “The Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities already paid the heaviest price in the first wave,” he says.
  • Kan reports that Bnei Brak’s Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky is vowing that he won’t allow any schools under his wise tutelage to close.
  • Yisrael Porush, the mayor of Elad, tells Army Radio, “I’ll go with whatever the state suggests, but the decision-makers on high are not taking us into account.”
  • And then there is Menachem Gesheid, an ultra-Orthodox man who writes a column in Israel Hayom demanding that the ultra-Orthodox are owed an apology from the rest of the country.
  • “The accusation [against the government] grows stronger in light of the fact that not only didn’t the country do a thing to make the system of quarantine warnings suitable for Haredim, but it also legitimized blaming us as if this community was not keeping the rules and that’s why the morbidity rate was higher. And if that’s not enough, now they put a closure on us and mess up our daily lives.”

4. With little power comes great responsibility: With all the press they are getting, one would think that ultra-Orthodox towns were the only ones being locked down … er, curfewed. But in fact, the majority of them are Arab. So they are also threatening to riot and join up with Naftali Bennett? Not quite.

  • In fact, ToI’s Aaron Boxerman reports that many Arab officials and health experts say they welcome new health restrictions in Arab cities and towns.
  • “There’s enough blame to go around — the national government, local officials, the coronavirus czar Gamzu. But the situation in Arab towns and villages ultimately goes back to us: We’re not following the rules, especially on weddings,” says Ahmad al-Sheikh, director of The Galilee Society, the largest Arab Israeli nonprofit focused on providing health services in the country.
  • Channel 12 news reports: “A series of events among the Arab populace have been curtailed or canceled lately, after many of the community’s leaders decided to take responsibility.”
  • The channel’s Zion Nanous points out on Twitter that if they acted like the ultra-Orthodox, it would probably be another story. “What would happen if the mayors of Arab towns and MKs from the Joint List led a ‘revolt’ against the decisions of the coronavirus cabinet and said they would not comply with the lockdown? How long would it take until the interior minister booted them out, set up a replacement city council and called the heads of the Joint List ‘terrorists’ against the national effort?”
  • One could even make an argument that the Arab locales have it worse than the Jewish ones. Kan reports that in East Jerusalem, defense officials tasked with enforcing lockdown or curfew measures are protesting that it is too hard to differentiate between neighborhoods. Their solution: just put all of East Jerusalem under lock and key.

5. Like Sweden, but with fewer Ikeas: So now that the government is headed for a curfew in a few towns, many have their doubts that it will be effective at all.

  • “What happens at night? Is the virus more active? Does it go outside to stargaze? Does it go on a Slichot tour? What the hell is the logic behind a nighttime curfew?” fumes journalist Shilo Fried on Twitter.
  • Dr. Itai Pesah, who is on the advisory board helping Gamzu out, tells Army Radio he doesn’t get it either. “A closure is the best way we have to stop the infections — it’s hard to believe that the steps the cities are taking will stem the outbreaks.”
  • Maybe we should forget restrictions altogether. Channel 12 news reports that dozens of scientists and researchers (the channel says 120, but only some 90 are listed as undersigned) have signed a petition urging the government to drop the idea of a lockdown and do the Sweden, i.e., infect them all and let God sort it out (or a herd immunity mechanism).
  • “We are calling to take the possibility of a lockdown off the table. At the same time, we are calling to line up Sweden’s policies with Israel’s reality by diverting infections away from at-risk groups toward those not at risk,” the letter reads.
  • Among the signatories is the head of the ER at Laniado hospital, who says everything is hunky dory: “We know how to deal with seriously ill patients, the mortality rate is not out of the ordinary in comparison to other viral diseases, and the hysteria is totally unnecessary.”
  • Nadav Eyal tweets a graphic from Oxford University, which has been tracking restriction levels globally, showing that Israel has the lowest level of restrictions in the West. “Including Sweden.”
  • With Israel surpassing 1,000 deaths, ToI’s Nathan Jeffay looks at whether experts think its possible to avoid the next 1,000. The good news? Experts say it can still be done, if Israel starts imposing serious restrictions.
  • And assuming Israel keeps on keeping on? There will be between 2,000 and 4,000 people dead from coronavirus in Israel altogether,” says Dan Yamin, head of Tel Aviv University’s Laboratory for Epidemic Modeling and Analysis. “The deaths will continue until we have a vaccination, get to herd protection, or have very accurate and fast testing.”
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