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Israel media review

One for each night, 2,800 in one day: What the press is saying on December 16

Infection numbers are rising faster than Hanukkah gelt futures, but people are not quite ready to start locking things down again; plus vaccinations, nominations and Liberman-ation

A Maccabi health care worker carries coronavirus test samples in Rehovot on December 15, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
A Maccabi health care worker carries coronavirus test samples in Rehovot on December 15, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

1. We made it, now what? Israel is seen barreling toward new virus clampdowns Wednesday, as the Health Ministry announces that there were over 2,800 cases diagnosed the previous day, well over the morbidity rate needed to shut shops, close schools in hot zones and snap back a few other restrictions under “tightened restraint.”

  • “The Health Ministry will request restrictions as soon as possible,” reads the top headline on Channel 12 news’s website.
  • “There’s still no decision on having the coronavirus cabinet meet, but the Health Ministry is talking about a worrying trend and seeking to start restrictions as soon as possible,” the channel reports.
  • Other outlets are not sure about these restrictions, with some headlines reading “On the way to tightened restraint?”
  • Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch tells Ynet that no decisions can be made until the 2,500 daily cases threshold is confirmed as a weekly average, “but yes, we’re on an upward trend.”
  • “You see it among the Arabs, but not only there. There’s a clear rise in the Haredi community and general public. Unfortunately, we have no way to prevent creating more restrictions and going into tightened restraint,” he says.
  • Infectious disease expert Dr. Yoav Yehezkeli tells Army Radio that the government needs to walk the walk if it talks the talk.
  • “This could have definitely been avoided if the government managed to implement the decisions it itself made. There’s a basic failure here on implementing decisions,” he says.

2. Lockdowns were meant to be broken: Apropos that, Kan reports that despite the coronavirus cabinet having agreed that Israel would enter the tightened restraint once it hit the 2,500 cases a day threshold, and would move to a fuller lockdown if cases did not drop enough after three weeks, there appears to be a new plan.

  • According to the station, reporting before the Tuesday numbers were published, the Health Ministry is asking for five weeks of tightened restraint starting Wednesday of next week.
  • It’s unclear if there are still plans for a lockdown, but public health expert and anti-lockdown media pundit Hagai Levine tells the outlet that Israel is better off without one anyway; “There are steps that need to be taken immediately, but I’m happy that the scenario of a lockdown has been taken off the table — the damage is greater than the benefit.”
  • Shachar Turgeman, head of an Israeli retailers association, goes on a media offensive against restrictions. “For three months retail was closed and a week after it’s opened, they want to close us again,” he says. “Everyone knows stores don’t add to infections, just like everyone knows who the source of infections are: those coming from abroad, noncompliance among Arabs, weddings, nature parties, Temple Mount prayers and any place the country has neglected.”
  • Speaking to Israel Hayom, Turgeman says stores will not close without a fight and zeroes in on those outdoor prayers that are much worse than people packed into malls and stores. “There are 18,000 people on the Temple Mount every week, without masks or social distancing. It’s like having 60 performances at Caesarea [amphitheater] without a mask.”
  • The one group not blamed by Turgeman was the ultra-Orthodox, though there are signs of rising infection in that community too. Health Ministry official Avi Blumenthal, who deals with the Haredi community, tells Army Radio that he doesn’t expect them to actually comply with all the rules.
  • “If the cabinet ordered schools shut in areas with high infection rates, the Haredi schools will reduce their activities. I can’t promise they’ll actually close, but it’s important that everyone follow the law.”

3. Vaccination nation: Haaretz devotes its lead editorial to urging the Israeli government to make sure that not only Israelis, but also Palestinians, get the benefits of vaccines heading our way.

  • “Israel has the legal, moral and humanitarian responsibility to vaccinate the Palestinian population, which lives in distress under its control and whose lives intertwine with the lives of many Israelis. Israelis and Palestinians live in very close proximity to each other, so it really isn’t possible to eliminate the pandemic in Israel proper while it is still raging in the other territories it is responsible for,” the editorial reads.
  • While you’d be hard pressed to find similar concern for the Palestinians in the rest of the press, there is plenty of concern around the vaccine, at least from the comments of officials and various explainers run by media outlets, all of them pushing against a supposed anti-vaccination groundswell.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth devotes much of its front page and several inside pages to “The Big Vaccine Guide,” with experts answering various questions about the shot.
  • Asked whether it’s better to get immunity by just contracting the deadly disease, senior hospital official Gili Rahav says that is a cockamamie idea: “20 percent of coronavirus sufferers have serious symptoms. Beyond that, even those with only mild effects can still suffer from post-coronavirus. This idea is wrong and it’s extremely not recommended to get infected, but rather to vaccinate.”
  • In Haaretz’s own explainer, New York-based doctor Lior Zangri tells the paper, “From what we know about the coronavirus from the past year, and what we know about vaccines in general from decades of research and about coronavirus vaccines in particular in the past six months, we can conclude that the benefit of the vaccine outweighs the risks.”
  • Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash tells Walla that a widely disseminated survey showing 50 percent of doctors would not get vaccinated should be dismissed, since it was done before the vaccine was approved by the FDA.
  • “I think the response will be higher than for regular vaccinations. For the flu, we vaccinate around 25 percent of the population. We need to get to 60 percent and I believe we will get there,” he says.
  • While much of the concern revolved around the ultra-Orthodox community, on Tuesday, three prominent rabbis agreed to issue a recommendation for inoculation, which appears Wednesday on the front pages of some Haredi newspapers in the form of an ad, though not Hapeles, which is connected to the more extreme Eda Haredit faction.
  • Eliyahu Arend, who advises the Home Front Command in dealing with the Haredim, tells Army Radio that “there is not really a voice in the community against vaccination, certainly not after rabbis issued the call. The coronavirus is something new, and there are still scientific disputes and research, and so some are worried about the vaccines.”
  • Perhaps going beyond concern, several people post photos on social media of fake death notices posted around town claiming to be for children and young adults who were vaccinated and died in the future, “after relying on what the TV told them.”

4. Nomination nation: Christmas? Holidays? Hanukkah? Nope, it’s “nomination season” in Israel Hayom, after a new police commissioner and Mossad chief were tapped, pending approval, by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana.

  • Much of the focus is on the top cop pick, Border Police head Yaakov Shabtai, since we cannot even know the name of the man chosen to head the Mossad spy agency, let alone cast our eyes upon his face.
  • Israel Hayom’s Itzik Saban has nothing but good things to say about the long-awaited pick of Shabtai: “Both because it means filling a job that has been as needed as oxygen to breathe, and because this is a semi-surprise that many did not expect, and most because of the man himself: Shabtai is considered a modest, professional, ethical officer.”
  • Yedioth’s Ben Dror-Yemini is surprised “that the most paralyzed government actually managed to do something.”
  • The picks, he writes “appear to be professional and business-like. And that’s an encouraging sign.”
  • Amos Yaakov, a former Border Police head, tells Army Radio that he has been telling Shabtai for years that “he should go to the blues, which is what the border police call the cops. He’s very modest, an officer and a gentleman, with very rich experience.”
  • While much cannot be known about D., the Mossad man with no name, there’s some talk of the challenges he will face, from Iran to his own bosses: “D. will have a difficult mission: He will have to provide the prime minister with precise intelligence and a correct picture of reality, even if this displeases him. In other words, D.’s test will be the degree of assertiveness, determination and professionalism he will demonstrate to challenge Netanyahu if necessary,” writes Haaretz’s Yossi Melman.
  • Israel Hayom makes sure to heap platitudes upon outgoing Mossad head Yossi Cohen, who is widely speculated to be Netanyahu’s pick for his successor should the premier ever leave Likud. The paper calls Cohen “the Israeli James Bond.”

5. Rising Sa’ar: But who can think about Netanyahu’s successor at a time like this? Everyone, with election fever ramping up.

  • A Channel 12 survey published Tuesday night shows Gideon Sa’ar New Hope reaching new heights, hitting 21 seats, just six shy of Likud.
  • Yedioth splashes a report on its front page claiming that Avigdor Liberman is trying to cobble together a party led by him, Sa’ar, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Yamina’s Naftali Bennett.
  • The paper reports that part of the joint run would be a joint platform, which would include changing laws to limit the prime minister to two terms of five years each.
  • My ToI colleagues note, “The alliance would need to bridge significant gaps between the parties, and would still fall short of the parliamentary majority needed to form a governing coalition, according to recent polling.”
  • Likud’s Miki Zohar laughs off the attempt to come together: “I have an idea for a name for the party: Just not Bibi,” he tells Army Radio. “This move is unrealistic and won’t work at the end of the day.”
  • One party not included is Blue and White, which has cratered in the polls. Shlomo Yerushalmi of Zman Yisrael, ToI’s sister site, reports that party No. 2 Gabi Ashkenazi is looking for an escape hatch to run, having had about enough.
  • “Ashkenazi won’t want to be No. 2 or 3 in a crumbling party that is getting five or six Knesset seats in the polls,” a Blue and White official is quoted saying.
  • Seemingly happy to be a No. 2 is former Likudnik Yifat Shasha Biton, who has joined Sa’ar as his second in command. Haaretz’s Yossi Verter says it’s a good move, especially from the point of view of identity politics: “She’s a woman, of Mizrahi origins, born in the outlying town of Kiryat Shmona, and she’s highly educated. So, even at this early stage, the top level of Sa’ar’s party has 1.5 Mizrahi candidates,” he writes. “If former Israeli army chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot joins, they’ll have 2.5 Mizrahi candidates in the top three. The same spots in Likud are occupied by Netanyahu, Yuli Edelstein and Yisrael Katz (all Ashkenazi Jews). This nonsense should have long passed from the world but, hey, the prime minister was the one who started it.”
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