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Israel media review

Nothing to be proud of: What the press is saying on September 30

Protests are shut down, Trump won’t shut up, some ultra-Orthodox stand against attempts to fight COVID, opting to herd themselves instead, and some Proud Boys are told to stand by

An Israeli protester in Tel Aviv on September 29, 2020. The sign reads "You are responsible." (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
An Israeli protester in Tel Aviv on September 29, 2020. The sign reads "You are responsible." (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

1. Bye bye democracy? In the dead of night, after hours of “debate,” days of delays and a bit of compromise, the Knesset passed an amendment giving the government the power to limit the size of protests and stop Israelis from traveling to get to them.

  • Haaretz reports that “the law will go into effect at midnight, and along with it a ‘special state of emergency’ will be declared, which the ministerial cabinet will need to ratify each week, three times. The declaration will be brought to the constitution committee along with the decision to lengthen it, and the committee will be able to overturn the state of emergency retroactively.”
  • The paper’s lead editorial slams the measure: “In practice, this legislation does not limit demonstrations, it bans them. The proposed restrictions are so draconian that they amount to a prohibition. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting, in the most cynical fashion, to exploit the coronavirus and the restrictions needed to fight its spread in order to undermine fundamental democratic rights and to suppress the dissent against him and his incorrigible government.”
  • Part of the reason the law only passed at 4:30 a.m. was because the opposition spent its time making speech after speech decrying the measure and the end of Israeli democracy. Ynet notes one such speech ended with a “harsh confrontation” between Yesh Atid MK Kamel Marih and Likud’s Miki Zohar, who was sitting in as Knesset speaker and decided to mock her for her address when she ended, calling it “repulsive and disgusting.”
  • “You think that is showing respect for your position. Are you not embarrassed,” she’s quoted as shooting back.
  • Speaking to Kan, Yoav Segalowicz, another Yesh Atid MK, gets in another shot, saying the law was “legislated by a disturbed government and an insane coalition.”
  • Kan notes that two Blue and White MKs — Miki Haimovich and Ram Shefa — crossed the aisle and voted against the bill. “This is a moment of truth for everything to do with democracy, freedom of speech, personal liberty and freedom of movement,” Haimovich is quoted saying.
  • Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch tells Army Radio that a full lockdown is necessary, though, and predicts things will get worse yet.
  • “Another week we’ll be at the peak of the toughest for the health system. Then we’ll be at speedy tests and a vaccine will be on the horizon,” he says, revealing that Israel is looking into purchasing quick tests that only cost $5-$10.

2. Gamzu gone and Barsi back? While critics say that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only pushed a full lockdown so he could impose limits on protests, an unnamed minister is quoted telling Kan that it’s not that. It’s just Netanyahu losing control.

  • “Netanyahu it seems is in a panic. He sees the numbers this week and feels the pressure,” the minister (or several ministers in unison, if the report is to be believed) is quoted saying. “He’s panicking. He doesn’t trust [coronavirus czar Ronni] Gamzu, doesn’t trust anyone. So he decided to go for a full lockdown.”
  • In Israel Hayom, Yitzhak Gershon writes that the issue is not with one single person, but rather a systemic and organizational failure caused by the fact that the cabinet cannot work together.
  • “The management of the crisis on the national level has ignored the existing apparatuses, did not organize alternate ones, [and] did not define clearly the roles and their areas of responsibility.”
  • Nonetheless, the top story in Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Netanyahu is now looking to bring back Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, the former Health Ministry head who was the face of the first lockdown but has since slipped into obscurity.
  • According to the report, Gamzu is expected to step down, leaving a spot open for Bar Siman-Tov, who is taking the offer seriously.
  • Unlike with Gamzu, “Netanyahu’s ties with Bar Siman-Tov during the first wave were especially good. The cooperation between them is etched in our minds as having led to significant achievements, including bringing down the morbidity rate, which on some days got below 20 cases, a number that now seems illusory,” reports the paper.
  • Channel 12 news runs an interview with Bar Siman-Tov in which his possible return is not mentioned. But there is plenty of criticism of the way Israel dealt with the resurgence of cases in the summer.
  • “We went back to normal instead of going back to coronavirus normal. When we saw the numbers going up, we didn’t fix it right away. It’s okay that we tried, but the problem is that we did not fix the decisions in time,” Bar Siman-Tov says.
  • He also says the current lockdown can work if schools stay shut, while slamming Gamzu’s ‘traffic light’ plan: “I don’t see how it can work. Someone who lives in Bnei Brak won’t go out to eat in Ramat Gan? My son’s teacher’s aide works in a green neighborhood in Jerusalem, and she comes from a red neighborhood, so she won’t go to work?”

3. You’re not only herding yourselves: Now that protests are out the way, Israel Hayom, which had played up the ultra-Orthodox up as virus vectors, turns its attention to them with a front page package accusing parts of the community of going for herd immunity.

  • “The Hasidim who admit: We give up,” reads the paper’s top headline.
  • While the tabloid on Tuesday notably overlooked mass ignoring of health guidelines among the ultra-Orthodox over Yom Kippur, the paper’s Yehuda Shlezinger writes that he was shocked to see a video showing Vizhnitz Hasidim celebrating while bunched together with no masks.
  • “I spoke with Hasidim from Vizhnitz and outside of the sect, with associates of other grand rabbis, and found that we, the general public, are tsk-tsking angrily and demanding they keep the rules, while they have essentially decided to impose totally different policies on themselves, to infect everyone and get past it. Herd immunity.”
  • He adds that while the elderly and high risk are being told to take precautions, everyone else is under instruction to go about their normal business.
  • But speaking to ToI, Dror Mevorach of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center says that young people, as well as the elderly, should be concerned. “Some 50 percent of the people hospitalized here at Hadassah are under 60,” he says. “And although a big percentage of deaths are people over 70, some younger patients have a prolonged course of illness, and can be here for weeks.”
  • An ultra-Orthodox student tells Army Radio that “the yeshivas kept the capsule rule the whole time. The infections you see over the last week are seemingly from outside workers who were okayed to go in and out by the Health Ministry.”
  • In Haaretz, Amos Harel criticizes the ultra-Orthodox as well as those in charge for not doing enough to clamp down on them: “In the face of the rabbis’ behavior, there is no police enforcement or significant punishment, and no clear position expressed by the political establishment, other than criticism in the opposition. No Haredi rabbi or politician has publicly opposed those violating the law – and of course Netanyahu himself, his ministers and his toadies haven’t said a word. They’re still busy keep track of the dangerous anti-government demonstrations, which take place in the open air, for the most part with masks and a far smaller number of participants.”
  • “That’s the way to nurture venomous hatred whose influence will be hard to neutralize,” he adds. “The step to sow separation between the tribes – Israelis versus Jews, as Transportation Minister Miri Regev blurted out – continues apace. It’s unclear how long Netanyahu will remain in power in light of his failed handling of the crisis and his approaching trial, but the rifts he is causing in Israeli society will last for many years to come.”

4. Denunciation dodge: The first US presidential debate focused on domestic politics, with Israel not getting a mention, but the issue of anti-Semitism and extremism more broadly made its way to center stage when Trump refused an opportunity from moderator Chris Wallace to condemn white supremacists.

  • “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by!” Trump said in what appeared to be the beginning of a neo-Nazi denunciation before it quickly spiraled in another direction. “But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”
  • Those well-versed in their far-right groups of America, such as JTA’s anti-Semitism correspondent Ben Sales, were able to immediately catch that Trump was not addressing Biden and Wallace when he told the  “Proud Boys” to “stand back.” In fact, Sales points out that Proud Boys is a “western chauvinist fraternal organization that supports Trump and has engaged in street violence.”
  • Trump appeared to be responding to Wallace’s request that he urge white nationalists to “stand down,” but instead went with “stand back and stand by!”
  • “In 2017, the Proud Boys’ founder published a video he titled “10 Things I Hate About Jews.” In it, he said Jews have a “whiny paranoid fear of Nazis.” A few months later, Proud Boys marched in Charlottesville,” tweets JTA editor-in-chief Philissa Cramer, linking to Sales’ story.
  • “Within minutes, members of the group were posting in private social media channels, calling the president’s comments ‘historic.’ In one channel dedicated to the Proud Boys on Telegram, a private messaging app, group members called the president’s comment a tacit endorsement of their violent tactics,” the New York Times reports.
  • The refusal to rebuke was quickly picked up by Jewish groups — though primarily the ones that are accustomed to calling out Trump. “Trump has in the past condemned white supremacists multiple times and other times has equivocated,” JTA’s Ron Kampeas pointed out.
  • “There’s nothing funny about this. It’s tragic and it’s dangerous. @realDonaldTrump is empowering Jew haters. The fact that he’s unable to condemn anti-Semites when asked directly and clearly is disqualifying. Disqualifying,” responds Biden’s Jewish outreach director, Aaron Keyak.
  • “Stop gaslighting,” retorts Keyak’s counterpart in the Trump campaign, Boris Epshteyn. “@JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris met with Jacob Blake Sr., a RABID anti – Semite. Linda Sarsour spoke at your Democrat National Convention. You’re tagging me on Twitter a lot, Aaron, I know I’m swimming laps in your sad head. When are we debating? Are you ready or scared? Stop hiding,” he adds, in a back and forth that mimicked the level of discourse on the debate stage.
  • “This debate was a train wreck,” writes Republican strategist Ari Fleischer. “A mess that isn’t good for our country. The President interrupted too much. Biden returned the fire, and neither candidate came across well. Both should knock it off in time for the next debate. Debates should air differences. Not be food fights.”

5. Cheering on the mud fight: Most Israelis slept through the bickering, but the US political junkies and journalists shafted with the overnight news desk shift did their best to catch their fellow citizens up on the food fight that they missed. By the time dawn rose on Israel, most Israeli news sites were leading with the debate, albeit not necessarily Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacy.

  • “Biden: ‘Clown, will you shut up already?’ Trump: ‘There’s nothing smart about you'” is the rather apt headline that the Walla news site chooses to go with.
  • The Kan public broadcaster goes with “Biden: ‘It’s hard to talk to this clown,’ Trump: ‘I fear that there will be election fraud.'” The latter quote draws a rather stark parallel to the claims made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the last two elections in Israel.
  • Haaretz similarly highlights the mudslinging with its “Trump attacks Biden’s son: ‘He’s addicted to drugs,’ Biden: ‘I’m proud of both of my boys'” headline.
  • “The dirtiest fight ever” reads the Channel 12 headline, which in rather typical network appears to quote a random observer who isn’t mentioned anywhere in the article itself.
  • The equally sensationalist Ynet doesn’t have to try very hard in this case, calling the debate “an ugly fight” in which “Trump bullied” and Biden responded “will you shut up already?”
  • But leave it to the Netanyahu mouthpiece Israel Hayom to take a completely different spin on the matter, headlining its debate write up “Trump goes on the attack and focuses on the economy.”
  • Despite the fact that many Americans regarded the debate as they would 90 minutes of watching a dumpster on fire, Kan’s Amichai Stein wishes Israel had a little more of whatever mud Trump and Biden were slinging. “My main conclusion from the evening,” he tweets, “it’s a shame there’s no debate culture here as well.”
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