1. Closing time: Israel is set to enter its third lockdown on Sunday evening, and signs of how unpopular the move is crowd the media landscape like a pack of Israeli shoppers mobbing a mall just before it’s forced to shut down.
- “There’s no one word to describe the situation better than ‘frustration,’” a 10th grader tells Army Radio when interviewed about the lockdown and the shutting of some school grades. “We begged to go back to school, and now again, as if nothing ever happened, we’re going back to our rooms.”
- The top headline on Channel 12 news’s website Sunday morning informs readers, “Senior doctors and experts claim: Cabinet ministers made a mistake, there’s no reason to impose a lockdown.”
- The channel doesn’t actually name any experts but quotes a group called the “Public Emergency Council for the Coronavirus Crisis,” which a Google search shows is a group set up last week of various officials in the medical field whose main activity is putting out statements claiming that the lockdown is unneeded.
- Other stations also pick up the statement, and also assume the group’s name is recognizable enough to not warrant explanation.
- Yedioth Ahronoth tackles the lockdown by looking at the pain of store owners, under the headline “Survival: Season 3,” and the owners of fashion chains who were forced to use the lockdown order as a way to market their deep, deep discounts.
- “The stores are full of merchandise. We knew the lockdown was looming and we had to do something to get rid of all of our stocks of the winter collection, and so we came out with attractive sales,” Yaniv Hadad, the owner of the Selection clothing chain, tells the paper (it doesn’t mention that Hadad recently got out of jail for an NIS 50 million stock manipulation scheme). “It’s ridiculous that this is again happening to our industry. Again, at the height of the season, they have decided to create a lockdown.”
2. Closed until further notice: The lockdown is only planned for two weeks, but it seems clear, at least from the experts, that it will be much longer.
- Kan reports that health officials are now talking about a month-long lockdown, though Health Ministry chief Chezy Levy tells the outlet that three or four weeks should suffice.
- Tomar Luton, another senior health official, tells Walla that based on past experience, things will be at their worst in two weeks: “I estimate that in two weeks we’ll have 7,000 cases a day. These are high numbers that could come about as a result of the transmission rate and the mutation. That means we’ll only start to see a slowdown in two weeks, but it won’t be significant.”
- Regardless of how long it will last, Ynet notes that some details have yet to be hashed out or publicized, like how public transportation will work. “I still have to go to work during the lockdown, but the question is how I get there. There’s never been a clear answer. Sometimes you get to a stop and sit there an hour until you find out that no buses will ever come,” complains one commuter.
3. Last try, I swear: Pity as well poor Likud, which has to try and defend the deeply unpopular lockdown while also not burning too much political capital. If Israel Hayom, often seen as a mouthpiece for the party and leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is any indication, the move is to do so by selling the lockdown as the last one. On Sunday morning the paper reiterates the message it has already been pushing for days with a top headline reading “Final push.”
- “With an outstretched arm and necessary caution,” reads another headline in the paper, an odd riff on the biblical phrase describing God’s salvation of the Hebrews in the Exodus story. The savior in this case is not God or Netanyahu (directly), but rather the vaccine.
- Where others have blamed the government’s mismanagement, Israel Hayom has focused most of its criticism on people not following the rules and the paper’s Ran Reznick directly links the new outbreak to the success of the vaccine drive and people’s complacency regarding health rules given the coming salvation of the needle. “Many Israelis think here we go, the coronavirus is behind us, and we can just run roughshod over all the restrictions,” he chides.
- In that, at least, he is not alone. “We have a very dangerous month and a half in front of us, when most of the high-risk population will not have full immunity,” Ron Balicer, an expert on the pandemic, writes on Channel 12’s website. “A month and a half is a long while. It sounds like a little, but it’s really a very long time.”
- Former Health Ministry head Moshe Bar-Siman Tov warns Kan that “at the current rate we’ll hit the level of not being able to offer [optimal hospital] care within a few weeks.”
- The vaccines are a big political boost for the premier, though. In Haaretz, even sourpuss Gideon Levy writes a column in praise of “Satan,” though the column is as much about justifying his decision to do so as the actual essence of the kudos: “No one will become a Bibi-lover simply for praising a particular act of Netanyahu, and no criticism of Netanyahu would be fair and valid if its source doesn’t have the courage to also commend him when it’s appropriate.”
4. On Gantz-er: While Netanyahu is basking in the light of his vaccine success, erstwhile partner Benny Gantz is seeing an ever-darkening cloud hanging over his future.
- Speaking to Kan, Blue and White minister Assaf Zamir openly says that he does not think Gantz should continue leading the party: “We’re at a point in time when we need to see who among possible alternatives has the best chances and we’ll line up behind him.”
- Asked if that person is Gantz, he answers: “When I look at this political moment, I think this round, at this point, I’m not sure it will happen, not sure it’s the situation.”
- Zman Yisrael’s Shalom Yerushalmi reports that nonetheless Gantz is expected to give a press conference in the next couple of days in which he will declare he is staying on as defense minister and will run in the elections as the head of Blue and White. If he does not, though, Netanyahu will try and give the defense portfolio back to Yamina head Naftali Bennett, who is suddenly not such a big rival since he will at least entertain the possibility of forming a coalition with him: “It’s worthwhile for [Bennett] to run as defense minister. He can still stop the party’s falling poll numbers,” a Netanyahu associate is quoted saying.
- Yedioth reports that Gantz is telling his buddies that he’s determined to stick with it, despite the internal rebellion, and is projecting sunny optimism.
- “The polls are bad now,” an associate of his is quoted saying. “But once we launch our campaign, things will change and the polls will improve.”