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Israel media review

Making decisions on the fly: 6 things to know for April 12

Press underlines shortcomings that led to forcing all airport arrivals into state-run quarantine hotels, 10 days after Netanyahu announced the same policy, which wasn’t carried out

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

Israeli travelers who had been stranded in South America arrive at Ben Gurion airport on March 23, 2020, from Sao Paolo via New York. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israeli travelers who had been stranded in South America arrive at Ben Gurion airport on March 23, 2020, from Sao Paolo via New York. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

1. Deja vu all over again: The cabinet on Sunday approves a measure requiring all Israelis returning from abroad to stay in state-run quarantine hotels for two weeks. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already announced that this would be the policy ten days ago.

  • What happened? Well, the Kan public broadcaster explains that Netanyahu quickly learned that there were legal and financial problems with such a requirement, so instead a qualifier was put in place, saying arrivals who could prove they had a place to quarantine would not have to stay at the all-inclusive hotels.
  • Then came Saturday, and the press got word of dozens of passengers who landed at Ben Gurion and waltzed their way out of the airport, many into cabs — despite their illegality — and off to their homes, without anyone even taking their temperature.
  • Haaretz’s Josh Breiner interviews one arrival who says he had called authorities in advance to check who would pick him up from the airport to take him to his home. “I was told that someone from the Home Front Command would take me, but as you can see, there’s no one here,” the bummed out passenger says.
  • Why was the hole in the policy in such desperate need of filling? Channel 12’s Amalya Duek reports that the number of individuals who had tested positive for the virus after returning from abroad jumped in the past week from 16 to 90.
  • Channel 13’s Barak Ravid reveals that Netanyahu had initially wanted to make all arrivals pay for their forced-stay at the state-run hotels. However, the premier eventually shelved the desire after it turned out that such stays are not as costly as he had originally assumed.

2. You screwed up. No, you screwed up: Given the exposing of the very public blunder in the government’s handling of airport arrivals, offices have subsequently begun bickering over who is to blame.

  • A senior official speaking boldly on the condition of anonymity tells Channel 13 that law enforcement acted negligently in not forcing arrivals into quarantine hotels and says that there is no “genuine will” on the part of ministers to have the arrivals separated from the rest of the public.
  • Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is incensed by the anonymous attack and responds on Twitter that police had no authority to forcibly drag arrivals into quarantine hotels, and adds that the Health Ministry should worry about convincing confirmed carriers to go to such hotels before telling other people how to do their jobs.
  • Meanwhile, the cabinet meeting to approve the new Ben Gurion arrivals policy as well as a decision to lock down hot-zone neighborhoods in Jerusalem has been delayed from Saturday night to this morning. “There’s really no reason why residents waiting to find out if their neighborhoods will be under lock down should know in advance when they can be notified at the last minute,” Breiner says, sarcastically mocking the regular delays in decision-making.
  • Channel 13’s Alon Ben-David reports that it’s not just cabinet meetings that are being put on hold. A highly touted Health Ministry operation to carry out 1,500 random tests in Bnei Brak to reevaluate to scope of the problem in the Haredi city that’s been on lockdown for a week has been delayed until further notice.
  • Channel 12’s Yair Cherki adds that the Rabbinical Committee for Media Affairs (“a problematic body on most days and a non-transparent and unregulated monopoly within the Communications Ministry”) has blocked a recently unveiled Health Ministry hotline intended for the Haredi sector from working on “Kosher phones” used by many in the ultra-Orthodox community.
  • For more on what the ongoing pandemic will mean for the future of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox, The Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur explains in a superb analysis that while Haredi culture is resilient, cohesive and more self-critical than most outsiders realize, its strengths became its vulnerabilities in the face of COVID-19.

3. Do as I say, not as I do: While several days have passed, Israelis — including many in the media — are still fuming over the revelations that Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin violated the coronavirus guidelines that they insisted everyone adhere to on the Passover holiday by dining with their children who do not live with them.

  • The major Yedioth Ahronoth daily plasters its front page with the headline “How dare they,” next to the faces of Netanyahu, Rivlin and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who last week was reportedly spotted at illegal underground prayer services after his office had explicitly banned them.
  • “While we abide by the guidelines and avoid meeting our family members for the holiday, they’re allowed to do whatever they want. While we follow the lockdown, they leave the skies open. This is Israel’s connected regime that only is concerned about itself,” writes Ra’anan Shaked in Yedioth.
  • In an attack editorial headlined “Disrespect instead of leadership,” the left-wing Haaretz daily writes that Netanyahu, Rivlin and Litzman owe the public an apology.
  • The paper’s Ariana Melamed goes further and calls on Rivlin to resign, highlighting not only his disregard for his own government’s guidelines, but also his decision to use his connections to have the daughter who joined him for the seder to be tested in order to ensure that he would not be placed in danger.
  • “You, for whom human dignity is so precious… how could you? How did you become the evil son of the Haggadah, the one who ridicules, ‘What is this work to you’ and excuses himself? You must bow your head — and go home,” she writes.
  • The Netanyahu mouthpiece Israel Hayom buries the seder-transgressor story on page six and makes no mention of Netanyahu, who unlike Rivlin has not even apologized for hosting his son Avner for Seder and flaunting it in a photo uncovered by Channel 12. The PMO has said the premier’s son only lives across the street and has not left his apartment in the past two weeks except to go to his dad’s residence. However, Channel 13’s Ravid speaks to witnesses who saw Avner out walking the dog and picking up a pizza.
  • “Maybe it’s the lovely weather or the personal example seen by our leaders in Jerusalem. Or maybe because of the lack of tests or the free rein for arrivals from New York, but I noticed quite a lot of people out in the streets today,” writes Haaretz’s Bar Peleg, suggesting that the actions of Israel’s leaders will have consequences.

4. Negative Nancys vs. Unquestioning Ursels: Israel Hayom’s Ariel Kahana reports of “fury” among ministers over the plan to lock down hot-zone neighborhoods in Jerusalem because they feel the criteria for selecting areas to shutter are designed to single out Haredi locales.

  • Haaretz’s Noa Landau responds to Kahana’s report by pointing out that the criteria are based on the number of confirmed cases per 1,000 residents. The Israel Hayom correspondent argues that the criteria have been “manipulated” to target ultra-Orthodox communities.
  • “Do you really think anyone here is trying to harass the Haredim? Come on. The closure is meant to save lives,” responds Landau, who asks Kahana whether he really opposes the policy. He says that he’s not an expert, but trusts the government because its policies have resulted in a death rate far lower than most major countries.
  • Landau dismisses the answer, saying that while Kahana isn’t a doctor, he is a journalist and is expected to ask tough questions, “just as you know to do in other issues in which you’re not an expert.” The argument demonstrates a philosophical divide that appears to be growing between journalists on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
  • Kahana’s colleague Limor Samimian-Darash falls squarely in her Israel Hayom colleague’s camp, writing in an article tweeted by Netanyahu,  “As in the war of attrition, when the soldiers are at the frontlines, commentators sit in studios in Tel Aviv or the capital and talk a great deal of detachment and misunderstanding about the situation, obsessively searching for a ‘flaw’ that wasn’t – all while Israel ranks as the safest country in the world during the coronavirus crisis.”

5. So close, yet so far: Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz has officially asked Rivlin for a two-week extension of his mandate to form a government, asserting that he is very close to closing a deal with Netanyahu on a unity government.

  • Meanwhile, a senior official in Gantz’s party tells Kan’s Michael Shemesh that Netanyahu is “trying to pull a fast one” on Blue and White and is walking back agreements that were already made because he knows that once Gantz returns the mandate, he’ll have lost much of his leverage in negotiations.
  • Channel 12’s Amit Segal writes that the breakdown in talks is real. “When Netanyahu and Gantz made the first breakthrough toward unity, which broke up Blue and White, it happened without impassioned pleas in the media. The two had a line of communication without press statements and interviews. The fact that they have returned to such tactics shows that there is no longer an open line of communication and there is no longer trust between the sides.”
  • Globes’ Tal Schneider writes that recent statements in the name of Netanyahu and Gantz have been aimed at building the important narrative of who is to blame for the fourth election if it indeed comes to pass.

6. Pick me up: We’re keeping with the on-and-off tradition of this column of giving readers a reason to get out of bed (but not leave the house!) in the morning.

  • The seder’s over, but many are still gushing after seeing this video of an Arab Israeli nurse reading aloud the Four Questions to Jewish patients in the geriatric department at a Pardes Hannah medical center who were unable to hear their grandchildren singing them this holiday song.
  • Who knew the Passover mainstay about a goat kid being eaten by a cat could be so fun to listen to? Jack Black’s version of Chad Gadya will have you starting your countdown for next year’s Seder 363 days in advance.

  • Jewish celebrities (and some non-Jewish ones too) put on a virtual Passover Seder to raise money for efforts to battle the pandemic.

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