1. Government now: All it took was fear of a plague of biblical proportions, but Israel finally looks like it might be on its way to having a functioning non-caretaker government, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Blue and White head Benny Gantz, agreed to begin talks given the national emergency.
- Israel Hayom reports that “The conciliatory language marked a sharp change after months of acrimonious campaigning and heightened rhetoric in the wake of another inconclusive election earlier this month.”
- Even Labor-Meretz may be behind a Netanyahu-led unity government, reports Channel 13, which cites party sources who read deep into the fact that party leader Amir Peretz refused to answer when asked about the possibility. “This is after he dismissed the option out of hand following the September elections,” the channel reports.
- And Orly Levy-Abekasis, who essentially torpedoed a minority government backed by the Arab-led Joint List, gets wide coverage for chiming in that “there is no excuse to justify standing on the sidelines at this time of emergency.”
- She tells Ynet that she won’t recommend Netanyahu or Gantz.
That ratio. Lol pic.twitter.com/QgvtMy1gJJ
— Judah Ari Gross (@JudahAriGross) March 13, 2020
2. Unity means everybody: The creation of such a government is far from a done deal though. The biggest sticking point appears to be whether the Joint List will be included in government, or as Netanyahu referred to them in a late-night statement “terror supporters.”
- Blue and White MK Alon Schuster tells the Kan broadcaster that, “In the coming days we’ll see how serious Netanyahu is about the offer and if it’s needed,” while adding that the party is continuing with its own efforts to create a government.”
- A party source is also less than gung-ho about the Joint List actually coming into the government, telling Kan, “We are sticking with our 61. … If we want an emergency [government] we at least need to be coordinating with everyone. I don’t think they will want to come into the government, but we at least have to stay in coordination with them.”
- Former minister Haim Ramon writes for Ynet that the parties need to put their garbage aside and come together to form a government of everyone, including Joint List MK and doctor Ahmad Tibi: “These politicians are the last ones who still don’t understand the harsh reality and are living on a planet of their own with their petty divisions and empty attempts to create a minority government or narrow government, pushing out this one or that one, trying to steal away defectors.”
3. Great leap forward: Nonetheless, Gantz is praised just for wanting to include them and for sticking by the demand, at least for now.
- “Granted, the likelihood of forming a narrow government headed by Blue and White Chairman Benny Gantz with the Joint List supporting it from the outside isn’t great. But the very fact that this dialogue is taking place for the first time, after years in which Arab Knesset members were excluded from such discussions, is of enormous importance,” reads Haaretz’s lead editorial.
- Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, author David Grossman writes that “Sometimes in the midst of darkness, comes a point of light.” referring not to the formation of a government, but the fact that Gantz appears to be holding strong to his demand that such a government include the Arab-majority Joint List.
- “Even if efforts to include them in power fail, we are witnessing a sea change: This is an amazing moment of opportunity for Israel’s Arab citizens. Now they can stop acting as a ‘protest movement’ (and nothing more than that), and can be equal partners in shaping their lives and their futures.”
4. Corona terror: Meanwhile, though, the hate is continuing to infect some parts of Israeli society.
- On a Channel 13 morning show, Avri Gilad, sometimes accused of outspoken racist views, terms people in an Arab town where there have been several cases, “corona terrorists,” implying that they are not keeping to quarantine requirements.
- And in Israel Hayom, Amnon Lord writes that letting the Joint List in would be even worse than Israel trying to reach peace with the Palestinians. “Whereas the alliance between Blue and White and the Joint Arab List is based on the idea of governing at any price, even if that price is handing the Joint Arab List veto power on who would serve as prime minister of the Jewish state; canceling the gains of the Trump peace plan; and rejecting other national interests. Unlike Rabin, who knew that the PLO was the enemy, Gantz and his friends take those who serve the enemy, whitewash them, and present them as vital governmental partners.”
5. School’s out: While the politicians are busy continuing to argue, Israel’s barely functioning government hit the doomsday button on Thursday, canceling school in a bid to stem the coronavirus outbreak.
- Well, at least some of the schools. Kindergartens remain open, as do special education institutions and some yeshivas, for some reason.
- Army Radio reports that everybody was set to shut down all schools, but Education Minister Rafi Peretz demanded that they be excluded, claiming that they won’t keep to the directive. Grades 1-3 were also almost excluded, but in the end canceled as well.
- Needless to say, kindergarten teachers and daycare workers are not happy and seemed to all call in sick in some cities, as a form of protest/wildcat strike.
- “I’m actually sick, but the bottom line is nobody is taking responsibility — not for us or our families. We should be sent like geese to slaughter,” one caretaker insists to Walla news.
- As for those working parents with kids who now need to stay at home, Channel 13 writes that no solution has been found for them, and the move is expected to mean billions more in losses for the economy.
6. Where have all the doctors gone: Many are asking why it seems like politicians are running the show and not experts.
- In Haaretz, Yossi Verter writes that Netanyahu is in his element in portraying himself as the crisis manager nonpareil. “Netanyahu is squeezing every ounce of political and propaganda benefit out of the coronavirus at a time of uncertainty and anxiety about the future,” he writes.
- Channel 12’s Arad Nir asks where all the experts have disappeared to. “The prime minister gets up every evening and gives updates on new steps needed for the medical challenge, alongside the Health Minister, the ministry director and the national security adviser. None of them are doctors. If the prime minister were prepping us for a security challenge would he stand up here without a general?”
- David Halbfinger of the New York Times tweets that in telling Israelis not to leave kids with grandparents (which was a disaster in Italy) Netanyahu appeared like “a scolding neighbor.”
Israel closes schools and universities. But, like a scolding neighbor, Netanyahu warns not to ask older relatives to provide child care so parents can work: “Don’t use Grandma and Grandpa as babysitters. Big children can look after little children. ‘I am my brother’s keeper.’”
— David Halbfinger (@halbfinger) March 12, 2020
- Though ToI editor David Horovitz, writes that “Watching much of the rest of the world belatedly recognize that Netanyahu was ahead of the curve in, first, advising Israelis against all overseas travel and, second, moving to close Israel’s borders against the contagion, such criticism has become harder to sustain.”
7. Look east, young policy maker: In Yedioth, Nadav Eyal writes that Israel still has a way to go and needs to look to Asia for advice on how to beat the virus back.
- “It can learn from the Asian response. Hit hard and fast. Bring much of civilian life to a halt, take extraordinary steps and track down and isolate anyone who was exposed to the virus. This is a much more painful approach at first, but it has shown great results in a relatively short period of time,” he writes.
- “Adopting that approach would mean taking action, scrapping ridiculous press conferences that are being held primarily to compliment senior officials from the prime minister on down, and instead use the full force of government and industry to increase many fold the testing capacity for coronavirus – drive-through testing is one option – locate and isolate every infected patient, close all public institutions, send staff to work from home and on and on.”
- In ToI, Nathan Jeffay reports that Israeli health officials are considering one approach tried in Asia: designating coronavirus-only hospitals. “It’s something that was tried and tested in Singapore, and we should really learn from another nation’s experiences,” says Eyal Leshem, an infectious diseases specialist at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan outside Tel Aviv.
- But Khetam Hussein, head of the infection control unit at Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa, disagrees: ““If we get to a stage where there are thousands of patients, one hospital is not enough,” Hussein said. “Staff will be tired and demoralized; everyone has to share the pressure. It’s not fair that one hospital should have all the pressure.”