Locked, stocked, and barreling toward closure: 6 things to know for March 26
Israel media review

Locked, stocked, and barreling toward closure: 6 things to know for March 26

New restrictions on movement are barely introduced before additional measures are threatened; Edelstein’s refusal to heed court order sees jaws drop in Israeli press

Police patrol on the Tel Aviv beach boardwalk on March 25, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Police patrol on the Tel Aviv beach boardwalk on March 25, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

1. Hunker down: Israel appears to be heading to a full closure to combat the coronavirus, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying Wednesday that such a measure could be introduced within days.

  • The prime minister’s warning came mere hours after a series of new restrictions on movement were introduced, which include keeping residents within 100 meters of their homes, with exceptions made for buying food and supplies.
  • “If we don’t see an immediate improvement in the trend, we will have no choice but to declare a full closure,” except for purchases of food and medicine, Netanyahu said in an address from his office in Jerusalem.
  • He appeared to condition the tightening of the rules on the outcome of the next few days, but his own national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, tells reporters the country will only know whether Wednesday’s partial lockdown was effective in two weeks’ time.
  • The pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom is game for a full closure, with columnist Ran Reznick writing: “It is a moral obligation to the public and there is no choice: Israel must go to a full closure and put the economy on emergency [footing]. It was critical to have already done this at the beginning of the week, when the Health Ministry demanded this of the government, and the treasury continued (and continues) to apply pressure not to do so. With this, it [the Finance Ministry] thinks it will minimize the harm to the economy, but it may bring about terrifying damage never before seen in the country.”

2. But who is calling the shots? Haaretz quotes an official involved in the negotiations, who says health and treasury officials aren’t “speaking the same language” as there is no “single cohesive approach” to the pandemic.

  • “The decisions are made in the end by two people, Netanyahu and the director-general of the Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov,” the source says.
  • “For years, Netanyahu spoke the same way about Iran. There are other opinions, but there is no point in hearing them because they don’t fit in with the prevailing assessment.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth calls the new directives rolled out Wednesday, which include fines and threats of six months in jail, “worrisome and unprecedented.”

3. Death toll rises: Meanwhile among Jewish communities in New York area, the United Kingdom, and France, the fatalities continue to climb.

  • According to Yeshiva World News, these include:
  • Avrohom Levi Bresler, 55, of Lakewood, New Jersey.
  • Yeshaya Englard, 66, of Boro Park, Brooklyn. He was the brother of the rabbi of the Radziner Hasidic sect, and had no underlying illnesses.
  • Yitzchock Zylberminc, 56, of Far Rockaway, New York. He was a longtime volunteer medic with the Hatzolah service.
  • The umbrella group of British Jewry says 22 UK Jews have died from the virus, according to the Jewish News.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Jews of Strasbourg, France, the third-largest Jewish community in the country, are seeing a serious outbreak.
  • “50%-70% of the active community members that I know have been infected,” the city’s chief rabbi, Harold Weill, tells the paper. ” 11 out of the 13 rabbis are sick, and one is in the ICU.”
  • In Israel, the death toll rises to eight, with 2,666 infections.

4. A cry for help from the elderly: Haaretz reports from Nofim Tower, an assisted living facility in Jerusalem. Two of the country’s eight deaths were residents of the home. According to the paper, another six residents and nine members of staff are confirmed infected, but the state is refusing to test all those in the facility. In addition, according to the paper, two women who were sick with the virus were not taken to the hospital for hours, for reasons that remain unexplained.

  • “The feeling is that we’re old, and we’ve already lived our lives, and now we’re just superfluous and will be flattened by the curve,” Esther Kobi, a resident, tells the paper.
  • The whole facility remains on quarantine lockdown, according to the paper, with just eight workers tasked with providing all services to the 170 residents.
  • The daughter of Moshe Orenstein, 87, a former resident of Nofim Tower who died Tuesday at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem, tells Israel Hayom she had alerted the medical authorities that her father was showing symptoms of the virus but they initially refused to test him. He “paid the price for their negligence. I begged them to allow me to enter the Hadassah ward in protective wear to say goodbye to him, but it wasn’t permitted.”

5. Hospitals get ready: From shaving facial hair to building new wards, Israel’s medical officials are gearing up for an influx of virus patients, as concerns mount that the country lacks sufficient supplies and ventilators.

  • According to Israel Hayom, the military is building four field hospitals for coronavirus victims. These will primarily serve soldiers who fall ill with the disease, but may also admit civilians, it says. The paper notes in an adjacent article that hundreds of soldiers who enter the induction center daily at Tel Hashomer aren’t keeping social distancing rules.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth says Sheba Medical Center is set to inaugurate its coronavirus ward, the largest in the country, on Sunday. It has 300 beds.
  • According to Israel Hayom, Sheba is also opening up a special maternity ward for women ill with the virus who are giving birth.
  • Doctors at Sheba were ordered to shave their facial hair to allow the N95 masks to fit, according to Israel Hayom.

6. Say goodbye to the presidency? The papers are also preoccupied by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s bombshell resignation after refusing to heed a High Court of Justice order to call a vote on his replacement, plunging the country into constitutional crisis. The episode was particularly shocking as the Likud No. 2, a respected former prisoner of Zion of the Soviet Union, was widely respected among politicians and seen as a shoo-in for the presidency in the future.

  • Haaretz’s editorial says: “Even before we find a solution to dig ourselves out of the constitutional pit that Edelstein dug… it can be said with certainty that Edelstein, who without shame clung to his seat while strapped with a constitutional explosive belt — is disqualified from serving in any public or state position. His resignation yesterday and baseless speech are worthy of being his farewell show from Israeli public life. Edelstein, the Knesset speaker who cast his eyes to the presidency, who during a global pandemic chose to stain his biography, trample on his reputation… has become a symbol and example of the corruption of values that the loyal slaves of the prime minister are subject to.”
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, writes columnist Ben Dror Yemini, writes: “The High Court of Justice did the right thing in clarifying to Edelstein the true state of the situation. If he has a drop of statesmanship left in his veins, Edelstein must say one thing: I made a mistake.”
  • But Israel Hayom columnists defend Edelstein and attack the High Court of Justice for meddling, saying the Knesset speaker took a bullet for the parliament’s sake (as Mati Tuchfeld writes, in a column headlined: “Edelstein sacrificed himself — for the Knesset.”
  • The paper also prints Edelstein’s final speech, an interview with him, and a recap of his seven-year term, in a hero’s sendoff.
  • The Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur writes that the Edelstein fiasco puts Israel’s political system “deep in uncharted waters.”
  • “In the end, Edelstein has acted less nobly than he pretends. He claimed to be delaying the plenum votes in order to force Gantz and Netanyahu to compromise. Perhaps. Then again, his steps only weakened one side’s negotiating position.
  • “Meanwhile, Blue and White, while decrying Likud’s ‘undemocratic’ delays, is hard at work drafting constitutional changes that target a single individual, who also happens to be their chief political opponent. A longstanding but informal Knesset tradition once decreed that significant changes to electoral laws should only be allowed to come into force at a distance of an election cycle or two, to ensure that the rules of the game wouldn’t be altered merely to serve the political needs of the present majority.”
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