Paint the town redder: What the press is saying on September 3
Israel media review

Paint the town redder: What the press is saying on September 3

Infection numbers are up and officials are down with continuing to threaten a lockdown and color-coded cities, leading to a healthy dose of criticism

Yeshiva students study in separation capsules in Jerusalem on September 2, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yeshiva students study in separation capsules in Jerusalem on September 2, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Red and redder: As papers hit the newsstands Thursday morning, the Health Ministry was announcing that there had been over 3,000 new infections over Wednesday, a massive spike of nearly 1,000 over the previous single-day highs.

  • Headlines on news sites Thursday morning report on a ministerial meeting being held to consider adding cities to the “red” list of areas which have been deemed high infection zones, as the government wrestles with rising infection rates.
  • A headline on Ynet make it seem as if the decision has already been made (and it may in fact be a fait accompli, but as of this writing the discussion continues), while Walla’s headline misleads readers into thinking that 30 more cities are being added to the roster, though in fact eight cities as well as some parts of undivided Jerusalem are in the dock.
  • Channel 12 news reassures readers outside those areas that “the assessment is that most of the new infections are being found in those red towns.”
  • Army Radio reports that eight cities may be deemed “redder towns,” in which extra restrictions on top of limitations on gatherings will be imposed. These will include restricting movement to within 500 meters from home and closing stores. It does not say what the eight are.
  • Channel 13 reports that 11 cities are being considered for the “redder” designation.
  • Haaretz reports that Israel has already failed anyway: “Public health professionals predict that Israel’s infection curve is unlikely to begin dropping over the next week. More likely, some say, is that the start of the school year Tuesday will lead to more cases of COVID-19 in the next couple of weeks.”
  • On the other hand, it reports that the R-nought, the number of people each infected person infects, has dropped below 1 (though that calculation is likely from before the current spike), crediting the contact tracing system. Like everything else in Israel, though, nobody is planning on actually doing the real work until “after the holidays.”
  • “The system to cut the chains of infection has progressed considerably but it hasn’t reached its full potential. That will apparently happen only after the holidays,” a health expert from Gamzu’s crew is quoted telling the paper.

2. One of these days, Israel. Bang, zoom straight to the Zoom: On the front page of Israel Hayom stands coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu with his best tsk-tsk body language (his actual visage is cloaked by a mask), alongside the quote “Without a change, we are headed for a full lockdown.”

  • While Gamzu’s alert is broadcast by the paper as a warning for the country, the actual coverage notes that he made the comments while visiting the settlement of Beitar Ilit, which may have been the actual target of his widely covered threat. That jibes with his general stance of avoiding sweeping restrictions at almost any cost, while constantly threatening to impose them.
  • He’s not alone. “This is a last experiment before a full lockdown,” Army Radio quotes a senior health official saying.
  • Public health chief Sharon Elraei tells Channel 13 that a holiday lockdown is a real possibility. “We’re not just waving this around to scare people. We are doing what we can not to get to a holiday lockdown, but I can’t say now what that is.”
  • Channel 12 news reports that business owners are already raising a hue and cry over what they say is the immense damage a lockdown over the holidays will do. “A closure over the holidays will mean 2,000 more businesses will not open up again,” the head of a restaurateurs association warns to the channel.
  • If you’re wondering whether a “holiday closure” involves a closure over one holiday, all the holidays, or the whole period between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot, join the club. News reports about a holiday closure seem to take the question for granted and officials haven’t really made a point of shedding light on their clear cut policies.

3. How the war was lost: In Yedioth Ahronoth, columnist Sever Plotzker writes that the government needs to stop using lockdown threats as if it is a policy tool, comparing it to other challenges faced by Israel.

  • “The Second Intifida ended, for example, not because the government told the public ‘if you don’t stop riding on buses or sitting at cafes you’ll be exposed to more suicide attacks.’ The attacks were stopped by clear, comprehensive anti-terror policies,” he writes.
  • “In dozens of countries the politicians standing at the head of the health system don’t resort to phrases like ‘if you don’t,’ but they just do what needs to be done. Here and now.”
  • Kan’s Liel Kaiser also takes aim at the decision makers for Israel’s habit of making policy by the seat of its pants, the latest example of which was the closing of schools in red cities, made in the middle of the night hours before they were set to open. “The government flip-flip, made in the dark of night, at the 90th minute, should not, unfortunately, surprise anyone — this is the way the crisis has been managed all along,” she writes.
  • “When this is how decisions are made, what’s the wonder that after we declared victory over the coronavirus, the number of sick just continues to climb and break records.”
  • Health expert Nadav Davidovitch, in a column published by Israel Hayom, also levels criticism: “Very quickly it turned out that politicization of the decision-making process was interfering. We saw this in the weeks-long delay in approving the traffic light plan, in the debate about allowing Hassidim to fly to Uman, and in the decision to start the school year.”
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer notes that Yamina head Naftali Bennett is also going after the government’s coronavirus policies in his new book, amid a drive to take down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while keeping the right-wing in his corner: “The coronavirus crisis offers him the perfect opportunity to transcend the divides of right versus left, pro-Netanyahu versus anti. He is highlighting his short but successful business career as a tech entrepreneur and trying to reframe the next election campaign around competence. He won’t directly attack Netanyahu on his corruption charges, but in several interviews has insisted that ‘Netanyahu is focused on personal issues and can’t manage the crisis.’”

4. Rabbi yell: Seemingly not helping matters are comments from the ultra-Orthodox community resisting being labeled red cities or following health guidelines, which seems like a fun flashback from the first wave of the pandemic.

  • Much of the attention is focused on Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, an ultra-influential ultra-Orthodox leader, who followed up his call for yeshivas to think twice before sending students into isolation with a call for them to also avoid being tested.
  • “While Bnei Brak is teetering between orange and red, and trying to improve trust in the health system, the new instructions from the ‘great sage of the generation’ to yeshiva heads has threatened to reshuffle the deck,” writes Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • Not to worry though, Walla quotes sources close to Kanievsky who say that “the instructions are only meant for upper yeshivas where ages 17 and older study, and which have dormitories.” The idea, apparently, is that the students are isolated among themselves anyway.
  • “There’s no such thing as mass isolation, ” health expert Ron Balicer tells Army Radio. “In actuality they won’t stay there for the holidays and afterward. Some will go out and can pass it on to people in the community who can become seriously sick.”
  • Doing a vox pop from Kanievsky’s Bnei Brak, Yedioth’s Nina Fox writes that “some of the residents said that Kanievsky’s instructions will put lives in danger and promised they would get checked if they suspected they contracted the coronavirus.” She notes that others said you can’t disobey the rabbi, and still more hadn’t even heard about the rules.
  • In ultra-Orthodox news site Kikar Hashabbat, there is not much about Kanievsky’s ruling, but there is an op-ed calling for Gamzu to quit and deriding him as a failure. There is also a piece about the pain of parents who just want to “let their children learn the alphabet,” and an article on the pressing question of whether Coca-Cola in Ukraine is kosher.
  • It’s not just Kanievsky. Behadrei Haredim, another ultra-Orthodox news site, reports that Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Soloveitchik, the head of the Brisk sect, penned a strongly worded letter decrying any rabbi who signed an open letter agreeing to follow Health Ministry guidelines.
  • He’s also not a big fan of masks, claiming that the only three people on his street to get sick were sticklers for face coverings: “When someone comes to the study hall who has messed-up spirituality, they say you can’t give him trouble, but someone comes in without a mask and you kick him out? Has the world gone mad?”
  • In Israel Hayom, Amnon Lord calls them and anyone else pushing against Gamzu “crazies,” making sure to lump in the anti-Netanyahu protesters as well: “Rabbi Kanievsky and the Uman crew are leading their sheep to suicide. They are spitting iniquity on the doctor.”

5. They tell us they like us , they really tell us they like us: Haredim are good at listening to leaders, but they apparently have nothing on Emiratis, who are continuing to impress Israelis with their ability to not hate us.

  • “The words I heard were truly monolithic,” Channel 12’s Ohad Hemo marvels in a piece after returning from Abu Dhabi. “Everyone talked about their joy over the deal with Israel, their blind trust for the leader and his ways, and the fact that Israel and the Emirates have no bad blood.”
  • In another piece that carries a whiff of Israel’s sad desperation for anyone in the region to be its friend, ToI editor David Horovitz writes that the real breakthrough is that someone is willing to be seen with us in public: “The fact is that for the first time, an Arab state — and a thriving, influential Arab state at that — is telling its people, ours, and the world that it is not merely resigned to our existence, or prepared to tolerate us, but inclined to actually like us. Israel. The Jewish state. A most unfamiliar pleasure.”
  • NPR’s Daniel Estrin, who was also on the trip, calls the talk of the warm peace a “talking point,” that will only be put to the test once direct travel begins between the countries. And he notes that the Emiratis were not exactly keen to scream to the world about their new friends.
  • “The welcoming ceremony in Abu Dhabi was unusual: The Israeli and American officials essentially welcomed themselves in remarks on the tarmac, while top Emirati officials waited for them in a gilded reception room. … And although traveling journalists attended a dinner with cabinet members and other prominent Emiratis, our hosts’ candid remarks about Israel — after their country overturned its decades-long boycott of Israel in just one day — were off the record and private,” he writes.
  • In Haaretz, Zvi Bar’el writes that UAE crown prince Mohammed Bin Zayed has seemingly eclipsed his Saudi counterpart Mohammed Bin Salman with the gesture toward Israel, and Riyadh may now see normalization with Israel as a way to recoup its former stature at the White House, though its demands will be much more complicated than the few jets the UAE will get out of the deal.
  • “Whether it is Trump or Biden who gets elected, Israel could very possibly pave the way back to Washington for Crown Prince Mohammed [bin Salman],” he writes. “That is why opening Saudi skies to Israeli and other planes comes to much more than throwing a bone and a show of support for the agreement between Israel and the UAE. It looks like the first payment for the goods the Saudi crown prince is hoping to receive from Trump.”
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