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Israel media review

Lockdowns and screwups: What the press is saying on December 24

A fresh closure, which includes the partial shutting of schools, is met with unholy anger only matched by a defecting Ze’ev Elkin, who is seen as dealing a major strike to Likud

Israelis artists protest against the COVID-19 lockdown, on November 8, 2020 in Tel Aviv. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israelis artists protest against the COVID-19 lockdown, on November 8, 2020 in Tel Aviv. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

1. Round three: A decision to place Israel under lockdown for an unprecedented third time is the major story of the day, even if the exact contours of the supposed lockdown are not exactly known.

  • The lockdown leads most major news sites Thursday morning and dominates the print press, edging out Likud minister Ze’ev Elkin’s bombshell decision to quit the government and aim fire at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (scroll down for those fireworks).
  • “The closure was announced in a joint statement from Netanyahu and the Health Ministry. It said the government had agreed to the restrictions ‘in principle,’ but that the full list of regulations was still awaiting final approval from government ministers,” notes ToI’s story on the lockdown.
  • Nonetheless, several news outlets report on the lockdown rules as a done deal. Channel 12 news reports that it will look like the Yom Kippur lockdown, meaning staying within a kilometer of home, staying away from other people’s homes and refraining from gatherings, among other things.
  • “Third lockdown,” reads the large front page headline in Yedioth Ahronoth, its simplicity an expression of the frustrating fact that we’ve all been here before.
  • “The global and local picture is getting worse from moment to moment,” writes the paper’s Sarit Rosenblum. “Even if we hit the brakes now with all our might, we’ll still be in big trouble.”
  • While the closure is slated to last two weeks, baked into the plan is an extension that will add another two weeks if infection numbers don’t fall far enough by then. Given that it takes about two weeks for the effects of a closure to be seen, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash tells Ynet that “it’s almost certain we’ll need [the extension]. I don’t think within two weeks we’ll be able to know or estimate the drop in infections. We’ll need another two weeks.”
  • But Kan quotes a gaggle of unnamed ministers vowing that “we won’t be an automatic rubber stamp on extending the lockdown.”
  • Israel Hayom at least tries to look on the bright side — which may be an outgrowth of its support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will be judged in the upcoming election at least partially on his handling of the crisis — running a large headline quoting coronavirus czar Nachman Ash saying it’s the last lockdown (he actually said he hopes it is) and playing up a report that listed Israel as a world leader in getting its people vaccinated.

2. Back to Zoom: A major point of contention regarding the lockdown plans is the decision to kinda, sorta shut schools, having them close at 1 p.m., an hour or two earlier than normal for most grades, while keeping grades 5-10 at home.

  • “Education Ministry sources explained that the decision to limit school hours to 1 p.m. was not made for epidemiological reasons, but to give a ‘feeling of a lockdown’ to the public. Ministers feared that had they allowed schools to stay open fully, people would leave home more and not stay at home as expected of them in the lockdown,” reports Channel 12.
  • Ash gives a less nonsensical reason for the school hours, telling Army Radio that it is so that “the closure will be significant and the limits will be in such a way that they can be enforced, everyone needs to leave at the same time. Some get out at 2, some at 4, some at 5, this creates another opening for going around and boosting morbidity.”
  • Health Ministry head Chezy Levy says the decision was “a compromise to lower risks. I understand that the decision is hard to understand, but when you implement a lockdown you walk a very fine tightrope between needs.”
  • News reports are nonetheless filled with parents frustrated over the decision, including in Yedioth, which runs a headline quoting a mom saying “they are making our kids crazy.”
  • “Enough, enough, enough, just let our kids grow up in peace,” the mom pleads to the Netanyahu in the paper’s report.
  • Channel 13 quotes MK Ram Shefa, head of the Knesset’s education committee, saying that “thousands of parents and students have reached out fuming over the disconnect between them and the decision makers, and I plan on doing everything so that their voices are heard and to change the rules accordingly.”
  • One place that may just leave schools open are Haredi areas, many of which have allowed schools to operate despite being labeled high-infection zones, which normally require schools to close.
  • Haaretz reports that Haredi schools in Jerusalem and elsewhere are helping drive infection rates skyward, reporting that 150 of the 400 cases in Jerusalem reported in Haredi communities Monday were schoolkids.
  • “We haven’t seen the likes of this, not even something close to it,” a Haredi principal is quoted saying. “Every hour there is a new confirmed case. I’ve had dozens of confirmed infections in my institution over the last few days.”
  • But it claims that enforcement of school closure orders is lax and the community is not about to step up and close schools itself: “There is no courageous leadership that is willing to go against the mindset of their followers, who want to see schools remain open,” the principal is quoted saying.

3. Failures everywhere: Several news sites look at how we got here, and it’s not a pretty picture.

  • Channel 12 news calls the lockdown “the closure that could have been avoided,” pointing at everything from political malfeasance to lax enforcement in high infection zones to malls and more.
  • “There was a failure in stopping the flow of sick people from abroad coming into the country via the airport,” Dr. Zvi Feldman tells the channel. “The failure was a combination of political factors and implementation.”
  • Walla news reports that “in the last month there was an unprecedented level of non-coordination with the Health Ministry, it became impossible for the coronavirus cabinet to make decisions, and legal issues did not allow the implementation of previous moves.”
  • Local authorities umbrella group head Haim Bibas fumes to Army Radio that “the Health Ministry, because nobody has paid attention to it for 70 years, is operating like it’s in a third world country. When I brought my idea for green [coronavirus-free] islands to the Culture and Education ministries, the Health Ministry killed it, since it does not want to advance anything that does not come through it.”
  • Haaretz reports that the screwups are continuing regarding the vaccine rollout, with health providers overwhelmed by massive demand, which they somehow did not see coming. The ministry won’t even be upfront about how many doses they have in stock, it reports.
  • “This is a huge screwup. They’re not supplying vaccines to the [health maintenance organizations],” the paper quotes a source in another ministry saying to associates. “There aren’t enough. They didn’t bring in enough vaccines. The [HMOs] demand more vaccines but they don’t bring them. The bottleneck isn’t with the [HMOs] but rather with the number of vaccines.”

4. Elkin huffs and puffs off: Ze’ev Elkin’s decision to leave Likud and go to Gideon Sa’ar new New Hope party, announced with a scathing letter and speech against the prime minister, provides a shot in the arm to anti-Netanyahu folk, while making him a fresh target for those still behind the premier.

  • In Yedioth, which runs an excerpt from the letter in large type on its front page, Yuval Karni calls the resignation “a blow to Netanyahu’s soft underbelly.”
  • ToI editor David Horovitz likewise calls the resignation letter “a heavy blow.”
  • “Elkin was … a longtime member of Netanyahu’s inner circle. And his defection speech constitutes a particularly heavy blow to the prime minister, and a major boost to Sa’ar,” he writes.
  • Haaretz’s Yossi Verter calls the move an “indictment” of the prime minister of the type people are used to hearing out of other peoples’ mouths.
  • “If we hadn’t seen Elkin, a bit pale, reading out the stinging text himself, we could have sworn that it was written by opposition leader Yair Lapid and not by a senior Likud politician, a government minister and a member of the security cabinet. The text sounded even more fantastic coming out of the mouth of one Netanyahu’s most gifted defenders.”
  • Channel 12 news calls Elkin’s address “unprecedented,” but also collects accounts of all the times Elkin publicly said the exact opposite of what he did on Wednesday night.
  • “Elkin over and over again repeated the claim that he feels Netanyahu’s personal considerations are taking an increasingly central role in his decisions and that ‘we’re going to elections due to your desire to influence the choice of the next state prosecutor and attorney general.’ but just three days ago, he said the exact opposite to Army Radio: ‘I don’t see any connection between Likud’s fight with Blue and White over the justice system and an attempt for Netanyahu to avoid prosecution.’”
  • Speaking to Army Radio today, still loyal coalition whip Miki Zohar says Elkin has been persona non grata for a while, despite defending Netanyahu. “He hasn’t been trustworthy for Netanyahu for some time. We know he acted against Netanyahu several times.”

5. Can he blow the house down? Elkin’s defection is seen as going beyond one apparatchik switching sides but rather as a massive shakeup within Likud that will reverberate until election day.

  • “Elkin’s decision reflects more than a single man’s political calculations. The ground is shifting within Likud. The mood has changed,” writes ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur, who is buddy-buddy with Elkin, in an op-ed.
  • Haaretz’s Verter writes that with Elkin now the fifth Likud MK to leave, “the leakage from the ranks of Likud to Sa’ar and his New Hope party is beginning to look a lot like a split.”
  • In Walla, Tal Shalev writes that Elkin’s angry defection “signals that this coming election will be much more interesting than the previous ones.”
  • In Israel Hayom, which downplays Elkin’s move in comparison to other newspapers, columnist Mati Tuchfeld still calls the decision “a blow to the morale” of Likud.
  • “It would not be an exaggeration to say that this election campaign which began with this stormy week will be the most challenging ever for the prime minister,” he writes,” and with a real threat of [him] losing power.”
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