Israel media review

Normalization be upon you: What the press is saying on October 20

Israel welcomes Emiratis, and many see a deal with Sudan looming; meanwhile, signs of attempts to understand the Haredim, and not just dismiss them, filter into the news agenda

Etihad Airlines plane lands at Ben Gurion Airport, October 19, 2020 (Sivan Farag)
Etihad Airlines plane lands at Ben Gurion Airport, October 19, 2020 (Sivan Farag)

1. Leave home without it: Normalization is on the radar with a UAE delegation making its way to Israel, where members will apparently sign a deal allowing visa-free travel between the countries.

  • ToI’s Raphael Ahren points out that not only will the visa-free travel agreement be the first with an Arab country, but “Notably, even Israel’s closest ally, the US, has so far refused to sign a visa exemption agreement with the Jewish state.”
  • The same point about no other Arab countries allowing visa-free travel is made again and again in articles about the development in the Hebrew-language press.
  • None of the stories bother mentioning a source for the information, which apparently sprung forth from an itinerary for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that includes a line about “visa exemptions,” later confirmed by the Foreign Ministry. And naturally there is no confirmation from the Emirates, not that their muster of mouthpieces would necessarily have anything to say. But if Israeli officials were looking to set the narrative and push a reluctant Abu Dhabi with the help of the press, you’re welcome. (Walla reporter Barak Ravid includes admittedly weak sourcing in a tweet, but that tidbit gets left off his actual report in Walla.)
  • Most of the stories about the planned waiver and historic visit by a delegation from the UAE are suitably short, reflecting the actual visit — just two or three paragraphs on the five-hour festival of felicity, during which Emiratis will use their new no-visa rights to … not even leave the airport.
  • Not so in Israel Hayom, which goes buck wild for the visit, emblazoning “Welcome in peace” across its front page, together with a picture of an Etihad plane that landed in Israel (and which was lauded as a first despite not being anything of the sort). “Wake up Israelis: The Middle East is being shaped anew,” reads the headline of a column by the paper’s Eldad Beck, who sees both the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict and a chance for a plug.
  • “What’s happening in the Middle East in the last two months since the dramatic announcement of the Abraham Accords is more than an earthquake. It’s a true tectonic shift, which is remaking the face of the Middle East after 72 years of unnecessary Israeli-Arab conflict,” he writes, adding that people should tune in to a conference Israel Hayom is hosting on the deal for more details about this earthquake-shattered Middle East.

2. Putting the Khartoum before the horse: Meanwhile, eyes are turning to Sudan, which is widely seen as the next possible target for normalizing with Israel. (It’s normal to target potential friends, right?)

  • Ravid, writing for Axios, reports that US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he is removing Sudan from the state sponsors of terror list paves the eventual way for normalization.
  • “[Two months of] talks aimed at a deal with multiple components: the U.S. would remove Sudan from the terror sponsor list, the U.S. and UAE would provide Sudan with a big aid package, and Sudan would agree to normalize relations with Israel,” he reports.
  • Ravid notes that the main holdout had been Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, “but he appeared to change his mind in the last few days, Sudanese sources say, after receiving assurances from the U.S. that Sudan would be removed from the terror list and receive an aid package first, and only then would be expected to announce steps forward on normalization.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth quotes Israeli sources saying that “there are understandings that in a case like this there will be an announcement on normalization.” Its placement of the story in a tiny box on the bottom of page 12 speaks to how important the editors in Tel Aviv think ties with Sudan are.
  • Foreign Policy reports that an announcement with Sudan is slated for within a week. According to the magazine, Washington had already agreed to take it off the terror list, then changed its mind.
  • “In recent weeks, the Trump administration balked on the agreement, refusing to announce it unless Sudan first agreed to recognize Israel, thereby netting the Trump administration another diplomatic victory ahead of the 2020 elections, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter,” reports Robby Gramer.
  • Despite Trump showering normalization upon Israel for the votes of the key Sudan-Israel peace booster demographic, some regard his moves as ultimately harmful to both the US and Israel, like Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev, who sees Trump and Netanyahu playing to each other’s own worst instincts.
  • “Trump’s presidency, in fact, has precipitated the dilution of the very concept of ‘shared values’ that underpinned Israel’s ties to the US and other Western democracies,” he writes. “Dogged pursuit of peace, or at least the pretense thereof, was one of the first casualties, quickly followed by respect for democracy and the rule of law. Netanyahu and Trump’s personal, political and potentially criminal entanglements meshed with their disdain for supposedly weak-kneed Western democracies, pushing both to embrace dictators and authoritarians around the world.”
  • There are also some signs of openness toward normalization on the Sudanese street. “As a general principle, from an Islamic standpoint, there is no opposition to sulh [treaty] or salaam [peace] with Israel. On the contrary, sulh and salaam are virtues that are to be earned, without exception,” senior Sudanese cleric Sheikh Abdel-Rahman Hassan Hamed tells ToI’s Ahren. Hamed recently issued a fatwa arguing that a fatwa against normalizing with Israel was incorrect.

3. Learning to speak Haredi: Much more attention in the press is paid to the ongoing pandemic and struggles with the ultra-Orthodox, who have defiantly opened schools despite high infection rates and the fact that it is not currently allowed.

  • Haaretz reports that Shas head and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri told ultra-Orthodox leaders that Netanyahu had negotiated a secret deal to allow them to open schools, as a sort of compromise, even though everyone else is strictly forbidden from doing so.
  • Under the deal, which was never finalized, “the ultra-Orthodox schools would have obeyed Education Ministry rules regarding learning in pods, wearing masks, virus testing and social distancing,” the paper reports.
  • The paper adds that “police enforcement, which was fairly lax on Sunday, was stepped up Monday. By the evening, dozens of principals had been fined, and some had even been summoned for questioning.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth, which includes a photo spread of what it calls “another day of violations,” reports that numbers supposedly showing a drop in cases and in positivity rates among the ultra-Orthodox are overshadowed by the fact that the ultra-Orthodox are shying away from tests, to the point that the Bnei Brak municipality will not allow Magen David Adom to set up a quick testing booth in the city.
  • “On the Haredi street, a feeling of frustration has grown the last few days over the failure to significantly lower the number of new infections, and it has caused many to keep away from getting tests that could wind up lengthening the closure of the cities,” reports the paper.
  • It goes on to note that Bnei Brak Haredim, unlike extremists elsewhere, have been told by their rabbis to cooperate with authorities, so the city saw removing the testing site “as an elegant way for the city to serve those who want to lower the number of tests without being thought of as defying the nation.”
  • No tests? No problem. Channel 12 reports that the Health Ministry has been sending notices to people that they tested positive for the virus, even though they never got tested. “At the same time, confirmed cases that the ministry should have informed say they were not told, and did not isolate,” it reports.
  • A video of a protest against anti-Haredi attacks held by Gur Hasidim in the city of Arad goes viral for the fact that they actually keep distancing better than most — ultra-Orthodox or not.


  • Dovetailing with that, there also appears to be more of an attempt to understand the community as more than a homogeneous virusblob.
  • Army Radio speaks to Dvir Arieli, an ultra-Orthodox cop in the settlement of Beitar Ilit: “It’s complicated, but I feel like this is a calling. I know I am a bridge between the ultra-Orthodox, where I came from, and the police. There’s some who feel the cop can speak to them in their language. Aside from that, I do get heckled on a daily basis, but I don’t get worked up about it.”
  • Kan also tries to get the temperature of the Haredi street, most of whom still see themselves as unfairly stigmatized. “Two of my kids have classes in an open area in small groups,” a Modiin Ilit father says. “We don’t have Zoom and the kids learn by voice — phone conversations that drop every few minutes. Of all the crises we’ve known … I don’t remember this massive amount of judginess and hatred. The media is hypocritical, they understand the pain of protesters and small store owners, but when it comes to the ultra-Orthodox — go after them.”

4. Commerce vs. the classroom: Several outlets preview the coming battle over the next set of eased restrictions and which sector will prevail.

  • Israel Hayom sets it up as a fight between schools and stores. The paper’s headline quotes a member of the coronavirus cabinet saying that they will consider the issue of opening stores now and pushing off schools until the next stage, though inside the actual story the source only says “we can’t do them both at once.”
  • The paper notes that the current plan calls for Grades 1-4 to open in the second stage and stores in stage three, but the Education Ministry needs more time to cram for the creation of a plan for actually returning to school.
  • According to Channel 12, the issue is the capsules, or plans to break students into pods, which the Education Ministry has said it will abandon for grades 1-2, and which the Health Ministry is demanding.
  • “The Education Ministry says it will take at least a month to put together the return of school in capsules, as the Health Ministry demands, and anyway, they would need more money budgeted, which the Treasury is not prepared to give,” the channel reports. (The issue of what the ministry has been doing for the last month is not addressed.)
  • And don’t forget the synagogues. Kan reports that the places of worship are only supposed to open at stage three, but ministers are planning on demanding they be allowed to open sooner.
  • Speaking to ToI’s Nathan Jeffay, an expert who has briefed politicians says they’ll just do what’s most politically advantageous for themselves no matter what.
  • “They don’t really want to know what you have to say, in many cases,” says the expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They already know from the head of their party to push for this or that.”

5. The mandemic: Also rearing its ugly head in the press is the issue of domestic violence, after two suspected murder cases in the span of hours.

  • Yedioth puts the number 19 in massive type on its front page — that’s the number of women killed in suspected attacks by someone they know this year so far.
  • The paper adds to the “day of blood” the case of a woman who is hospitalized with her 11-year-old son, who tried to stop her husband from beating his mom with a hammer.
  • The paper’s Hen Artzi Srour places the violence within the context of the wider malaise that has seen women kept from truly holding the reins of power, which has become even more pronounced during the pandemic: “When they decide on a full lockdown, there’s no army chief who will pound on the table and say that mental and physical health are as important as the virus fight. There’s no general who will say we need to give comprehensive treatment to the problem of violence given the tripling of the number of complaints. The lives of women are less important. Especially if they already come from groups or classes with a lower socioeconomic status.”
  • Naomi Schniederman, who runs a women’s shelter, tells Army Radio, “There’s a lot of demand and we’re working as fast as we can. The shelters — ours and others — are full.”
  • Haaretz reports that failures in the health system are also hurting the mentally ill, who are not getting the care they need anymore. According to the paper, over the course of the pandemic, the number of voluntary mental hospitalizations has dropped while the number of forced hospitalizations has gone up.
  • The reason? “It’s much harder to hospitalize in a pandemic,” the head of a group that helps the mentally ill tells the paper. “There is terrifying crowding and the rooms are wings are not built like a general hospital.”
  • Walla reports that the Welfare Ministry is expected to report a drop in the number of child abuse complaints this year, reversing a several-year trend. But according to the news outlet, the numbers don’t tell the whole picture and experts believe the number of unreported cases to be drastically higher, since kids can no longer escape to school to tell an adult.
  • “The kids themselves are at home and not exposed to anyone they can report to, like from the education system or health system,” says therapist Hava Levy, who is working with the ministry. “They and us are breaking our heads to try to figure out the right way to do this. We are in close contact with the Education Ministry, since most of the reports come from them.”
  • WIZO head Anita Friedman uses Israel Hayom to urge lawmakers to budget and implement a decision from 2017 to pump more money and resources into battling domestic violence: “This is the time for action. Just like the aid for unemployed, businesses, freelancers and hospitals. This is the time for results and not just to express solidarity. This is the time to decide on making a change, because since you started reading this column, there have been two more violent episodes in Israel, and in these very moments the next murder is brewing somewhere.”
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