Israel media review

Locks to think about: What the press is saying on October 14

Virus numbers are down, but the lockdown hoedown is still going strong as outlets focus on schools, ultra-Orthodox, and more; plus some fake extortion turns into the real thing

A woman in Tel Aviv, during a nationwide lockdown. October 13, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
A woman in Tel Aviv, during a nationwide lockdown. October 13, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

1. Still under lock and key: The cabinet decided Tuesday to both extend a national lockdown and ease up on certain aspects of it, and it’s the former angle that most news organizations take as they continue to look ahead to the possible eventual resumption of life, liberty and the pursuit of a trip to Ikea.

  • “Netanyahu and Gantz agree: No lifting the lockdown until Sunday midnight at least,” reads a top headline in Israel Hayom.
  • With infection numbers sinking to levels not seen since July, though, officials are needing to scramble to justify their decisions.
  • “Instead of astronomical numbers of infections we are seeing a decline,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein is quoted saying by Channel 12. “We stopped the rise in seriously ill patients, but we need to pay attention that despite the happy numbers, we’re still finding 3,000 infections a day in lockdown conditions, meaning it is still here.”
  • “We need to understand that 2,000 infections a day is still a high number that can easily become an even higher one,” Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch tells Kan. “We cannot remake the mistakes of the last exit from the lockdown. We need to do it different this time.”
  • Science Minister Izhar Shai, from the other side of the intra-coalition aisle, tells the station that “according to the experts, we came to the unanimous conclusion that we could not yesterday start to ease the lockdown. It was a pointed and important discussion, not political.”
  • But Coronavirus Knesset Committee had Yaffa Shasha-Biton is spitting mad that the lockdown is still in place. Channel 13 reports that the Likud martyr-to-be wrote in a party WhatsApp channel that she will refuse to vote with the party until some basic parts of the lockdown are lifted.
  • Per the channel: “‘I’m writing to you from the heart,’ Shasha-Biton continued ‘and if nobody leaks this from this so this will stay between us in the group.’ She described how she woke up this morning with tears ‘that simply flowed. I cried. Really, that’s what happened.”

2. Teacher’s pets: Yedioth Ahronoth thinks about the kids, focusing on the still-closed/distanced school system with a dog’s breakfast of opinion from kids, parents, educators and experts.

  • “The more time goes on, the more I want to go back to school. I want to learn in a class in front of a teacher. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss school,” says a Zoom-sickened 7th-grader from Rehovot.
  • “If we don’t exit the lockdown gradually while making sure we don’t do anything unreasonable, it will be really bad,” Rambam hospital head Michael Halbertal writes in the same four-page package. “The struggles of parents are totally clear, but it’s better to wait another week or two than to go back to square one and end up back in lockdown. The Health Ministry’s plan for a gradual reopening is correct and good, we just need to stick to it.”
  • For those hoping for a surfeit of caution, Channel 12 has some bad news, quoting Health Ministry official Efrat Aflalo saying that “the return will be the same we did it last year — without pods until third grade. Any changes will be in day-to-day operations, no more moving teachers and outsiders between groups.”
  • In Israel Hayom, Ben-Gurion University health expert Nadav Davidovich bemoans what he calls “pandemic fatigue,” and says a lack of public trust is only making things worse, urging the swift reopening of schools.
  • “The lockdowns, the move to distance learning, is widening gaps. Discussions on opening the school system only focus on narrow epidemiology that despite all its importance does not allow for a full understanding of the needs. The opening of schools is needed for several reasons: educational, health-wise and economically. If we understand that closing schools mostly hurts those worse off and adversely affects the physical and mental health of kids, if we understand that wider point of view in discussions, the framing narrative will change. Opening schools as early as possible will allow kids to realize their rights to education and social and emotional support, preventing damage to their future development,” he writes.

3. Time for a get with the ultra-Orthodox? Haaretz focuses on the fact that all this discussion of reopening is happening while infection rates among the ultra-Orthodox remain sky-high.

  • “At best, there are preliminary signs that the spread of the virus there is slowing. But that’s before the impact of the mass Sukkot festivities held by some Hasidic sects have become evident,” writes Amos Harel, inferring an infection rate 10 times that of the non-Orthodox in Israel.
  • And he adds that the crisis has laid bare societal rifts between the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of the country simmering just beneath the surface for decades: “A decent percentage of ultra-Orthodox Israelis are increasingly disconnected from the state and don’t see themselves as bound by its laws and instructions, even during a crisis.”
  • Kan reports that in Bnei Brak, the positivity rate on coronavirus tests is 21 percent, which is much higher than the 5.4 percent reported nationwide on Tuesday. It lists the other cities with the highest positive test rates as well, all of which are majority ultra-Orthodox.
  • Opposition MK Ofer Shelah tells the station that the nationwide lockdown was totally unnecessary, but put in place for political reasons. “There are certain groups that have political power,” he says, referring to the ultra-Orthodox.
  • On the ToI blog site, Dan Perry writes that “the coronavirus crisis might be the catalyst that finally compels Israel to upend its shortsighted accommodation with the Haredi minority, a lazy compromise that condemns this group to poverty and threatens to bring down the whole country.”
  • “People are right to be angry, but wrong to focus on corona, which one day will go just as it came. Israel faces a more existential problem: if trendlines continue, ‘Start-Up Nation’ will be reduced to a giant yeshiva with its kosher kitchen empty and its palm outstretched to US Jews,” he writes. “Absent independence or territorial autonomy, non-Haredi Israel simply must stop enabling and subsidizing its own destruction.”

4. The plotz thickens: In a change of pace, the country is being roiled by some non-pandemic news, after Channel 12 news releases recordings of attorney general Avichai Mandelblit whining about then state-prosecutor Shai Nitzan.

  • The conversations took place between Mandelblit and the head of the Israel Bar Association at the time, Efi Nave, and were aired by Channel 12 Tuesday evening. The channel claims the recordings, made by Nave, were “obtained legally” and specifically claims it did not come from a phone belonging to Nave that wound up in the hands of another journalist and that was leaked out last year, with officials raising fears at the time that the recordings could be used to blackmail judicial officials and prejudice court proceedings. Just a coincidence, I guess.
  • Mandelblit was on a virtual call with the so-called coronavirus cabinet when Channel 12 aired the recordings, and turned off his camera as the report came out, the network reports.
  • The report kicks up a bit of dust, making the front pages of all three major dailies.
  • Unsurprisingly, Israel Hayom plays it up the biggest of all, as allies of Netanyahu try to use it as proof of a conspiracy that Mandelblit is being blackmailed by the left into pushing out Netanyahu. “The attorney general has no mask,” crows a headline in the tabloid.
  • The paper’s Mati Tuchfeld claims that the recording shows how Mandelblit  went after Netanyahu to ease pressure on himself. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join them. That’s what Mandelblit did,” he charges. “Very quickly he discovered how nice it is on the other side. The protests ended, the media backed off.”
  • Yuval Yaoz writes from Zman Yisrael that even if the report hurts Mandelblit, it won’t help Netanyahu: “There was no extortion here. The indictment was the minimum that was asked for.”
  • Yehuda Sheffer, a former official in the state prosecutor’s office, tells Army Radio that the whole thing stinks: “What in the recordings is relevant to the issue at hand? Mistaken management mistakes. Not corruption and not extortion,” he says.
  • “The timing is no coincidence. This is an attempt to harm public trust in the judicial system ahead of Netanyahu’s trial.”

5. Hey Miki, that’s not fine: What was a small dust storm quickly transforms into a major crap-kicker when coalition whip Miki Zohar gets on Radio 103 and issues a pretty explicit threat to Mandelblit that he needs to either quit, withdraw the indictments, or expect more tapes to come out.

  • “I can guarantee that more things will be revealed soon. If he doesn’t resign, it will be an earthquake. There will be no choice for Mandelblit but to resign and rescind the indictments against Netanyahu,” he says.
  • He refuses to detail the additional material, but says there were more recorded conversations and that Nitzan was sitting on information that could “put Mandelblit behind bars.”
  • Haaretz reports that after the comments, “attorney Gonen Ben Itzhak, a prominent member of the protest movement against Netanyahu, filed a police complaint against Zohar. Ben Itzhak claimed that the coalition whip’s remarks constitute the crime of blackmail via threats and disrupting legal procedures, for both his threats against Mendelblit and his intervention in Netanyahu’s criminal cases.”
  • Kan reports that the Movement for Quality Government also went to the cops: “This is not the behavior of an elected official, certainly not from the ruling party. This is the behavior of a posse drunk on power.”
  • Army Radio quotes Blue and White members saying that Zohar is the one who needs to skedaddle: “He is undermining the stability of the government on a daily basis, and every day he is in office brings us closer to spiraling to elections. Israel deserves more.”
  • But Channel 12’s Amit Segal, who reported on the recording, dismisses Zohar’s remark as empty blather: “[He] doesn’t have the ability to make good on it … he doesn’t have the recordings,” he tweets.
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