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Israel media review

No safe harbor: What the press is saying about tragedies and mutinies

Death of a pregnant woman brings the issue of vaccinating those expecting to the fore, while cities go rogue to get more kids in school and a tar spill blackens Israel’s beaches

Tar washed up onto Tel Shikmona beach in northern Israel, February 21, 2020. (Tomer Ofri, Israel Nature and Parks Authority)
Tar washed up onto Tel Shikmona beach in northern Israel, February 21, 2020. (Tomer Ofri, Israel Nature and Parks Authority)

1. Pregnant pause: Israel’s attempt to dive headfirst into a nearly post-COVID reality for its vaccinated masses is curbed by the death of a young pregnant mom, protests by those left behind by the reopening, and increasing talk of a fresh lockdown for the Purim holiday.

  • Osnat Ben Shitrit, 32, a mother of four, died at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem over the weekend after contracting the coronavirus. Doctors were also unable to save her 30-week fetus in an emergency C-section.
  • The tragedy has highlighted both the importance of vaccination and questions surrounding vaccination for pregnant women.
  • “The news from Hadassah reverberated across the Israeli health system, with doctors warning that it illustrates the increased danger that the British variant, which now accounts for almost all Israeli COVID cases, holds for pregnant women and fetuses,” writes ToI’s Nathan Jeffay. “While concern related to the British strain lately focused on its transmissibility, not virulence, it is believed to impact pregnant women worse than the regular strain. Last month, as the British variant spread, Israel approved vaccines for pregnant women and started encouraging women to get the shots.”
  • Channel 13 news reports that there are currently 50 pregnant women hospitalized with COVID-19, with 19 in serious condition and eight in critical condition. None of them have been vaccinated.
  • The channel also says that a month after Israel began recommending vaccination, there have been no incidents of side effects harming a pregnant mother or fetus.
  • Comments from Ben Shitrit’s brother-in-law, who started an anti-vaccination Facebook group, are widely covered by the media as a cautionary tale, though along with his statement that “when it arrives in your backyard you understand the need to think differently,” he is also given room to spread his remaining anti-vaccination ideology.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva is opening a first-of-its-kind clinic meant to help pregnant women deal with vaccination jitters.
  • “Today there’s a global consensus that pregnant women are at higher risk from the coronavirus, and so they need to vaccinate,” the hospital’s Prof. Arnon Vizhnitzer tells the paper.
  • Israel Hayom runs a front-page headline reading “Don’t listen to the fearmongering. Pregnant? Go get vaccinated.”
  • Prof. Yariv Yogev writes in the paper that no drug is ever tested on pregnant women: “But via the knowledge that pregnant women are liable to get sicker, and the understanding that the mechanism of the vaccine is not dangerous, it is obvious to us, through an understanding of the biology of the vaccine, that it cannot cause issues.”

2. Revolt of the Zoomers: Over a dozen cities and councils are planning to open school for 7th to 10th grade, despite Health Ministry directives against it, in what the media is calling a “local government rebellion.”

  • The move comes after protests by parents and students in said grades claiming that they are being left behind because they are the last grades yet to open.
  • Haaretz reports that some classes met in malls in a symbolic protest over the fact that shopping is allowed but in-person learning is not. “If the priorities are to open malls and leave the junior high pupils at home, we’ll study in the mall,” a Jerusalem school official says.
  • “We can’t wait any longer. Our kids are in serious condition mentally,” the mayor of Herzliya tells Kan.
  • Not surprisingly, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein comes out against the city heads, promising a crackdown and accusing them of “populism.”
  • “When all the big heroes are crying ‘where’s education,’ and at the same time adding ‘and also stores, and sports, and culture and hotels — everything is crashing down,’ that’s called being a populist,” he tells 103 FM.
  • Teachers, other officials and at least some of the cities that originally joined the “mutiny” are already rethinking the move. “The criticism cracks the decision of the forum of 15 cities,” reads a headline on Channel 12 news’s website.
  • “Returning to school against the law and the decision of the local authorities is not acceptable to me. The stench of elections is emanating from this. If we ignore government decisions — what’s the difference between us and the [hardline ultra-Orthodox] Jerusalem Faction,” the mayor of Rehovot, who reversed a decision to join the rebellion, is quoted saying.
  • Tomer Lotan, a top official coordinating the national health response, tells Army Radio that “I wouldn’t call it a ‘rebellion,’ but the only way to move ahead with the national plan won’t work if everyone just does what they want.”
  • Channel 13 quotes from a statement from teachers union head Ran Erez calling the decision “irresponsible.”
  • “If there’s a tragedy and a student or teacher is harmed, I don’t see any of these mayors taking responsibility for it,” he says.

3. Putting the shush in Shushan: Meanwhile, there are more and more signals that the country will celebrate the Purim holiday under some sort of lockdown or curfew.

  • A Health Ministry source tells Walla that “we are still mulling whether the public will abide by regulations, like we thought at the start, or whether we need to impose restrictions, and which restrictions are most appropriate.”
  • But the source’s bosses may have made up their minds already. “We are receiving reports of party invitations and an increase in the sale of liquor,” Edelstein tells Kan. “I think unfortunately there will be no escape from restrictions — the direction [we take] may be a nighttime lockdown.”
  • His deputy Yoav Kisch tells Ynet the same. “We must continue to maintain the downward trend, and if everyone gathers together and fails to wear masks as if the [pandemic] is over, that trend will change.”
  • Channel 12 writes that underground parties at secret locations have been going on all along despite the closure of nightlife for nearly a year, and Purim will be no different. “On Purim people will be partying big time,” a DJ tells the channel. “The virus caused the public to lose faith in the law and the government and if it continues, they’ll do what they want.”
  • Ynet reports that reopened stores have been swamped by shoppers rushing to get supplies for the holiday, with lines out the door and around the block. “Every year we’re packed ahead of Purim, but in terms of numbers, this is the most people I’ve seen in the 15 years we’ve been open,” the owner of an Or Yehuda toy store says. “I’ve never seen craziness like this.”

4. Tar and gag: One place people presumably won’t be going to for Purim is the beach, with an oil spill causing what some call the worst environmental disaster to hit the coastline in decades, if not ever.

  • “Heavy environmental disaster,” reads a front-page Yedioth headline over a picture of a tar-covered turtle.
  • “The spill has killed sea turtles and fish and was possibly responsible for the death of a juvenile fin whale that washed up on Nitzanim beach in the south of the country on Thursday,” ToI’s Sue Surkes writes.
  • She adds that the source of the spill remains a mystery: “Until the cause can be confirmed, nobody knows whether the source of the tar was crude oil or heavy diesel fuel. The Environmental Protection Ministry secured satellite images, dated February 11, of a suspicious black patch on the sea surface some 50 kilometers (31 miles) off the coast and footage showing ten ships that were in the area around that time. It is cooperating with international authorities to narrow the options down in the hope of pinpointing the vessel or vessels that may have thrown fuel overboard.”
  • “Imagine that you tar a roof to seal it. Imagine a whole world of living things being sealed off and suffocated by tar,” Nature and Parks Authority’s marine ecologist Ruth Yahel tells ToI sister site Zman Yisrael.
  • Haaretz reports that the cleanup is being managed by thousands of volunteers, “because the state does not have the human resources needed to deal with a pollution event this extensive.”
  • “I knew nobody would deal with this so I decided to come,” one teen volunteer tells the paper. “I don’t have a bag, so I’m collecting all the tar I found and I’ll take it to a pickup point.”
  • Want to know more? Too bad. Somehow, the incident has now been placed under a court-ordered gag, the second high-profile censorship issue after the swap deal for the woman who crossed into Syria late last week, which was quashed by the military censor.
  • “Never, ever in my life have I see a gag order so churlish like the one requested and received by the Environmental Protection Ministry,” tweets Haaretz’s Almog Ben Zikri. “Simply chutzpah and recklessness.”
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