Israel media review

Open to whatever: What the press is saying about getting back to business

As the lockdown lifts, questions revolve around whether the good times can last, or what it will take to reach normal; and female empowerment takes center stage, at least for a day

Customers sit at a cafe  in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Customers sit at a cafe in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

1. My so-called opening: “Nearly normal,” read a front page headline on Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday, with Israel taking the biggest step yet toward reopening as the latest wave of the coronavirus recedes. But by Monday morning, there are more than a few questions about the drive towards so-called normalcy.

  • Israeli schoolkids are not keeping to health guidelines, gasps Haaretz, reporting from school hallways in Jerusalem and Gedera. “During recess many of the 7th-grade girls were hugging, even though they were supposed to remain two meters apart. They admitted they couldn’t contain their excitement during class,” the paper reports.
  • (Perhaps more surprising is some students admitting that they did better over Zoom, at least academically.)
  • Army Radio reports that 416 kindergartens and 35 schools are closed due to coronavirus outbreaks, most of them in the south.
  • Restaurants are also opening, though confusion seems the special of the day. Walla reports that only about half of the restaurants that have shut down planned on reopening, with some taking a wait-and-see approach until after Passover. (Some 4,000 of 14,000 pre-pandemic eateries are said to have closed down for good.)
  • Others are opening, but without being sure what they are allowed and not allowed to do, with the decision having come just hours before they got the okay.
  • “I have no idea what the rules are. They said to open so we opened,” the owner of a Tel Aviv cafe tells Kan.
  • Channel 13 speaks to Nissim Ben Zaken, the owner of some Holon eateries who says he had to take out a loan in order to reopen, and his stepfather, who was caught on video 10 months ago breaking the windows of one of Ben Zaken’s restaurants out of anger over the situation.

  • “We put our heart and soul into this establishment, to treat the guests, so it will be good for the public, good for our souls. The public is satisfied and we are satisfied twice over,” says Ben Zaken, tearing up. “It has nothing to do with money.”
  • Any troubles to do with the opening go out the window in Israel Hayom, which is working to get Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reelected by showing off his claim that he got the country opened back up thanks to his vaccination drive.
  • “I really missed seeing people sitting in the restaurant,” one Tel Aviv waitress is quoted telling the paper.

2. Nothing green can stay: Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash spent Sunday telling pretty much any news outlet that would have him that, as opposed to Netanyahu’s claim to Fox News that the pandemic was largely behind us, Israel actually runs the risk of closing back down even before the March 23 elections if health rules are not more closely followed.

  • He tells Channel 13 that “the coronavirus is still with us… the vaccines give hope that it will behind us soon, but we still need to keep the rules.” He also calls the decision to open the country back up a “calculated risk.”
  • Ran Balicer, who sits on a panel advising the government on health policy, is also not sure about the government’s decision to open almost everything up at once.
  • “I admit that had they consulted with us on mass gatherings in closed spaces, we would have recommended differently. For instance, all the mass gatherings, there’s no reason to have them all open at once. After the national effort we put in, now is the time to get used to plans that build off of the Green Pass, because Israel is the only country that can do so,” he tells Ynet.
  • Channel 12 news asks when we’ll be able to actually return to normal, with everything open. The answer it gets from Prof. Yaniv Ehrlich from MyHeritage is not anytime soon, so long as kids remain unvaccinated.
  • “In an optimal situation where the vaccine works, we would need to get to 80 percent, but the drive is to get to an even higher number,” he’s quoted saying. “The herd immunity level is not some magic number where a light switches on and there’s an amazing physical change. Vaccinated people can still catch the virus, but with lower probabilities… So even if Israel can’t get to herd immunity, it can still benefit from coming not far.”
  • ToI’s Aaron Boxerman writes about lagging vaccination rates, especially in Bedouin areas in the northern part of the Negev, and fears that Ramadan, coming up in a month, could make things even worse.
  • “Our expectation is that the numbers will continue to rise,” says Dr. Zahi Saeed, who advises the Clalit health management organization on Arab health. “I hope to God we’re wrong. Ramadan is on the way, and we don’t want to see a disaster.”

3. This year in (lockdown-free) Jerusalem: Dr. Orly Greenfield, a non-Health Ministry health official working on the coronavirus, tells Army Radio that “due to the number of vaccinated we can be more liberal in making decisions and absorbing a certain level of infection. Our measurement needs to be the number of people in serious condition.”

  • Health Ministry officials, meanwhile, undermine Ash’s claims of a looming disaster, telling Kan that “something drastic” would need to happen for Israel to be locked down for the election or Passover.
  • Health Minister Yuli Edelstein also indicates he doesn’t see any more lockdowns on the horizon. “I very much hope we will be able to be with the whole family — up to 20 people indoors, as is the current limitation. I am hopeful, and this is a hope with a pretty good basis… that with proper conduct [by the public], we will be able to avoid more lockdowns. I really do ask everyone to help us with this.”
  • Ministry official Dr. Sharon Alroy-Pries backs him up, telling Army Radio that “I don’t see a reason for limits over Passover. If we don’t keep the rules, we could slide backward, but for now the infection situation is relatively stable.”
  • Channel 13 reports that unnamed ministry officials say it’s almost certain there will be some restrictions over the first night of Passover, but that the chances for a lockdown are low.

4. A crisis of one’s own: Marking International Women’s Day, Haaretz notes that women have been disproportionately hurt by the lockdowns surrounding the coronavirus, taking care of kids while trying to work, being laid off or suffering more domestic abuse.

  • “We’re afraid of going years backward, that all the progress achieved in recent decades will be nullified,” says Labor Ministry official Yulia Eitan. “Prolonged absence from the labor market has a price. Women who were forced to stop working and return home to care for children will have trouble returning to the same positions, even if the economy returns to normal. This will affect wage gaps and opportunities for promotion.”
  • In Yedioth, which devotes its front pages and much of Monday’s real estate to celebrating women’s achievements, Dr. Galia Rahav, director of the Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory at Sheba Medical Center Tel Hashomer, writes that the year has not been all bad for women: “The coronavirus crisis undoubtedly brought advances in giving influential women a stage, including at the Health Ministry, hospitals and HMOs, which brought about a real change in the way the virus was treated and dealt with.”
  • Army Radio runs a series of essays from influential women, including Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, who tells a deeply personal story growing up with a grandmother but separated by a language barrier. “Sometimes, the heart wants strange things, like learning Yemenite and returning to your grandmother’s grave, putting your lips on the ground and voicing inside all the things that little girl could not tell her.”
  • On ToI’s blogs site, Ofer Kenig from the Israel Democracy Institute writes that Israel has a long way to go in terms of putting women in power, noting that of all OECD countries that once elected a female leader, Israel has had the longest gap in waiting for the second, and that women are rarely given ministerial portfolios with much meat behind them.
  • “Israel’s 35th government, the bloated unity government created after the 2020 elections, included a record number of eight female ministers when it was formed, twice as many as the previous record of four women serving in the government,” he writes. “However, this improvement in female representation in government is no cause for celebration. First, none of these women was appointed to head one of the more prestigious ministries, Finance, Defense, or Foreign Affairs. The last woman to serve as foreign minister was Tzipi Livni (2006–2009), and no woman has ever served as defense minister or finance minister. Of the six women currently serving in the government, only two were appointed to major ministries: Gila Gamliel to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and Miri Regev to the Ministry of Transport. The other four were given minor, and even marginal, ministerial positions.”
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