Israel media review

Lockdown in the dumps: What the press is saying on September 17

As Israel readies for a second shutdown, the media vocalizes its disgust in light of apparent agreement among health professionals that drastic steps won’t lower infection rate

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Israeli troops operate a roadblock along a highway near the Lebanese border in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli troops operate a roadblock along a highway near the Lebanese border in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

1. Here goes nothing: With no exceptions, media outlets fill their airtime and pages with horror and disbelief over the government’s plan to lock down the country for a second time in months on Friday, even as none of the health experts believe the specific measures being drafted will be enough to lower infection rates.

  • Health Ministry director Chezy Levy says as much in a Kan radio interview: “I doubt that the lockdown will succeed in lowering the morbidity to the numbers we want to see, so it is very possible that we will continue the lockdown in an even more severe way after the three-week period ends.”
  • Israel Hayom leads its front page with the headline “A pandemic of confusion,” while Yedioth Ahronoth goes with “The lie of the lockdown.”
  • The latter paper then goes through the various inconsistencies in the lockdown guidelines, including closing schools while keeping work open, leaving parents with their hands tied; keeping Ben Gurion open and allowing Israelis to fly abroad, while barring local hotels and vacation home owners from hosting guests; indoor religious bathhouses will be allowed to remain open, while Israelis who want to go into the water at the beach will be prohibited from doing so.
  • The Kan public broadcaster leads its newscast lamenting how Israel will shortly become the first country to enter a second lockdown “even though not a single professional expert says it will work in dramatically lowering the infection rate.”
  • Channel 12 quotes Health Minister Yuli Edelstein as having told colleagues behind closed doors that he’s held all sorts of talks with medical professionals, asking whether lockdown will work. “Unfortunately, I didn’t find a single person who was optimistic that it would,” the network quotes him as having said, adding that the health minister lobbied for a stricter lockdown than the “porous” one proposed.
  • Anchor Yonit Levy asks Health Ministry director turned analyst Gabi Barbash, “Now that they’ve agreed to a lockdown with so many holes, will it work in lowering infection rate?
  • “No,” he responds before pausing for several depressing seconds. “What will we tell the business owners after three weeks when the numbers don’t go down?” he asks, criticizing the government’s coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu for his “lack of professional logic” in backing this “perforated” lockdown. “If you’re gonna do a lockdown, you have to lock it down completely,” he says.
  • Explaining where Gamzu went wrong, Barbash says he shouldn’t have gotten into public skirmishes with parts of the Haredi leadership. “There are people for whom ideology is more important than their health,” he claims, adding that Gamzu’s time would’ve been better spent thinking of ways to limit the damage done by the these sectors as much as possible.
  • In Haaretz, Ido Efrati writes that “Israel is entering another lockdown without clear metrics and targets that will determine when it will end. The Health Ministry has not put forth criteria for the transition between the three-week lockdown and the subsequent plan to phase out of quarantine, placing the decision into the hands of politicians.”
  • “Israel is about to enter an ineffective lockdown that is liable to wreak great harm, without guaranteeing a decline in infection rates that could justify such an extreme measure. It’s one more failure in the ever-lengthening list of Netanyahu’s failures,” the left-wing paper’s editorial reads.

2. School’s never in session: Just about everyone seems to be in agreement that — similar to the early summer outbreak — the latest spike in numbers correlates to the reopening of schools at the beginning of the month.

  • Kan reports that health officials plan to keep schools shuttered beyond the three-week initial lockdown period, due to the recognition that they have been a main source of the outbreak. “A ten year old doesn’t get as sick as an adult when infected, but he infects just as much as an adult does,” the network explains.
  • Channel 13 reports that Gamzu backs the “porous” lockdown formula because the only thing he really is intent on doing is keeping the schools closed, which the current plan ensures.
  • So concerned have health officials been about the risk posed by schools that they decided Wednesday evening to close them a day earlier than initially announced, leading one parent to tell Kan, “We feel like we’re being held hostage, disrespected.”
  • “A day here or there does not make a difference and just drives parents insane,” Barbash says, scolding the government for its last-minute decision making.
  • Apparently speaking from planet Pluto, Education Minister Yoav Gallant tells Channel 13 that “the education system is not a source of infection – it is an anchor of stability.”
  • The network subsequently presents several graphs showing the spike in cases 10-12 days after schools opened, proving Gallant wrong.
  • Kan’s Moav Vardi points out that Israel doesn’t have the infrastructure to reopen schools in a safe manner, and without such infrastructure, we’ll never be able to keep infection rates down because immediately upon exiting from the lockdown, the numbers will shoot back up.
  • “Nobody is learning from their mistakes,” Channel 12’s Barbash says, citing Gallant, who shockingly asserted that he plans on re-opening schools the same way he did two weeks ago, once the upcoming lockdown wraps up.

3. We’re sorry. Don’t hate us: All three major news channels cut their evening broadcasts for a national address from Reuven Rivlin in which the president apologized to Israelis for the government’s failure to contain the coronavirus pandemic before pleading with citizens to abide by the latest guidelines.

  • Analyzing the speech immediately afterwards, Kan’s Moav Vardi says Rivlin recognizes that the only way the country will be able to get through this period is if the public follows the guidelines, which will only happen if they trust the government. “But they can’t trust the government unless the government recognizes its failures,” he adds, praising Rivlin.
  • Barbash calls Rivlin’s words “brave,” adding that people overreacted earlier this year when he broke the government’s lockdown guidelines over Passover to have seder with his daughter. The health expert noted that Rivlin only dined with one daughter and had still been mourning the loss of his wife. “But he once again took responsibility and took responsibility for the entire leadership,” he says, noting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others in the government wouldn’t have been caught dead making the apology that Rivlin made.
  • But Yaron Avraham pipes in on the panel, saying he doesn’t agree that Rivlin should be cut slack for violating government-issued guidelines.  However, he adds that the speech was “a hinted criticism” at Netanyahu, and one that should’ve been given by the premier himself.
  • Rivlin’s speech is also published in page two of Israel Hayom under the headline “Citizens of Israel, we’ve let you down, but you still must follow the guidelines.”

4. I give up. Do what you want: Reports begin piling up revealing the grave concern of police officials who say the government is setting them up to fail, giving them a lockdown with so many holes to try and enforce.

  • Channel 13 cites health officials who are already acknowledging that not all of the restrictions in the lockdown will be enforced. Nadav Eyal says that over the holiday itself it will be easier to see who is breaking the rules, but once Rosh Hashanah ends on Sunday night and Israelis are allowed to return to work, how will police be able to differentiate between who is violating the lockdown and who is going to the office or for an exercise stroll.
  • Channel 12’s Amnon Abramovich notes that police are once again not being given the final guidelines until hours before the lockdown is put in place. “It’s hard to believe police will really stand at the beach to prevent people from going in the water,” he says, adding “don’t expect the police to fill all the holes that the government made in this lockdown plan. Or in one word: embarrassing.”
  • Haaretz’s Allison Kaplan Sommer goes to Ra’anana grocer Itzik Hen for some anecdotal evidence. “The Americans, the French, all of the immigrants – from the beginning they’ve been wearing their masks, waiting in line. They’re fine; they listen and follow rules,” says store owner Hen, himself a full-fledged Israeli of Moroccan descent. “But Israelis don’t believe what’s happening, or they don’t care. They don’t listen to their government, to their leaders or to me – they don’t listen to anyone. Why? I suppose it’s because they don’t have any faith in anyone.”
  • Yedioth crisscrosses the country interviewing Israelis on how they’re readying for the upcoming lockdown. In She’ar Yashuv, Yaki Shimoni who makes a living running a camping site in the backyard of his house, had to cancel dozens of reservations made for the holidays. In Nahariya, Rada Sheikh, who works as a nurse in the coronavirus ward of her city’s hospital, breaks down as she recalls her children longing for some quality time with their mother. And in Beitar Illit, Eli Deutsch is livid at his mayor, who flew to Uman and abandoned the residents to deal with the lockdown alone.
  • The only one appearing to be benefiting from the ongoing disaster is Naftali Bennett, whose Yamina party has climbed to a whopping 22 seats, according to a Channel 13 poll. The survey shows that this week’s peace deals did not help strengthen Netanyahu’s Likud party, which loses a seat compared to the last poll. (In addition, only 68% of respondents said they plan to abide by the lockdown rules.)
  • In an interview with Israel Hayom, Bennett says his national religious Yamina party will no longer be a niche sectoral slate and that he is like an iPhone 12 compared to Netanyahu’s Nokia, in an apparent slight to Nokias.

5. Who’s next? It’s hard to believe from much of the day’s coverage, but Israel signed historic normalization agreements with two Arab neighbors less than 48 hours ago. However, some follow up reporting is still being conducted.

  • Mossad chief Yossi Cohen indicates in Channel 12 and Channel 13 interviews that Saudi Arabia could be next in line to normalize ties with Israel. Cohen has strayed from the conduct of his predecessors, taking interviews possibly aimed at building his brand ahead of what several reporters speculate will be an eventual run to head the Likud party.
  • Cohen tells Channel 12 the accords signified “the breaking of a glass ceiling that existed in our relations with Arab states.” He says the move to formalize ties was achieved through long years of “contacts managed very, very delicately,” which apparently includes speculating about them on prime time television.
  • In Haaretz, Zvi Bar’el notes that “Israel’s commitments to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates could complicate its relationship with Qatar, and Turkey and any future action in Iran. The agreements may have opened a window, but beyond it are bars that will now surround Israel.”
  • In the Atlantic, editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg notes that the Palestinians were the biggest losers of this week’s normalization agreements. “A dark and cruel joke I once heard in Saudi Arabia: What’s the difference between Arab Gulf leaders and Netanyahu’s Likud party? The Gulf states really despise the Palestinians. Once again, Arab leaders are signaling to them that they have grown tired of what they see as their rejectionism and obduracy, and also that they would very much like to be partners with Israel in high-tech development and in the fight against Iran.”
  • ToI’s Raphael Ahren interviews Israel’s Ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff, during which the envoy recalls his first discreet contact with an Emirati official 26 years ago and how this week’s peace signing evokes a feeling that it’s all come “full circle.”
  • On a semi-related note, right-wing jounalist Yinon Magal gets ahold of a picture of what appears to be Netanyahu sleeping on the floor of the plane flying him home Tuesday night from Washington after the signing ceremony.
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