1. Party poopers: Israel is preparing Thursday to head back under curfew over fears that Purim holiday celebrations could turn into a superspreader event, but the horse may have already left the barn.
- Several news outlets report on street parties in Tel Aviv the evening before, including footage showing large crowds of revelers. “Hundreds of youths were seen at street parties in several places including Kerem Hateimanim, the Carmel Market and Dizengoff Square, dancing and cavorting without masks or any adherence to social distance guidelines,” an outraged Channel 12 news reports.
- The channel quotes the owner of a bar saying he did nothing wrong. “We sold alcohol as takeout, which is allowed. The police came and asked us to close everything, claiming that we were responsible for the crowd.”
- Walla notes that “most of the parties took place around midnight, when revelers were seen near various businesses, most of them without masks. In some cases, the partyers gathered on crowded streets, and settled into crates spread around the area.”
- By Thursday morning, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein’s angry denunciations of the partyers lead several news sites. “Those celebrating at these contagion parties should know — a spike in infection will be registered in your names, business closures will be because of you, loss of human life will be on your conscience,” he tells Army Radio.
- Channel 13 news reports that police busted a forest party in the Judean lowlands, arresting the DJ and fining 18 people who were too slow to escape the fuzz. According to the channel, the police 433 anti-fraud unit has deployed an anti-party force aimed at shutting down merrymaking, and at the station investigators grilled several people suspected of organizing underground parties.
- Police spokesman Assi Aharoni, who terms the shindigs “suicide parties,” tells Kan that cops will have permission during the Purim curfew to enter people’s homes and break up gatherings, but hints that keeping the decibel levels down will keep the cops away.
- “It’s true that on Purim night you are allowed to have loud parties after 11 p.m., but if there’s a lot of noise we can enter a home — it’s important people know that.”
- Aharoni tells Ynet that police are pounding the pavement and working their sources to put the kibosh on partying. “In the last few days we’ve collected a lot of intelligence on Purim parties during the week, and yesterday summoned the party organizers and others.”
- Kan shares footage showing one of the Tel Aviv parties getting back up and running shortly after the cops skedaddle.
2. Purim NIMBYism: Unsurprisingly, some ultra-Orthodox, who were raked over the coals for their own refusal to heed the rules, try to dunk on the partyers as well.
- “Full of Haredim dressed up as seculars,” tweets Haredi journalist Yanki Ferber above a video of a party.
- “Without shame: Masses of seculars celebrate ‘Purim parties’ on Tel Aviv’s streets,” reads a headline on Kikar Hashabbat, with the kicker “As if there’s no coronavirus.” The site also claims that the parties took place “just as the infection rate is on the rise,” which is perhaps a nod to the Purim tradition of turning things on their head.
- In fact, health official Roni Numa tells Kan that infection rates may soon be rising, especially among the Haredim. “The drop in infection rates among ultra-Orthodox has halted and there is now a worrying rise. I’m especially worried about Purim and the disaster that could occur from gatherings and parties.”
- On Twitter, journalist Chaim Levinson attacks the Haredim for preaching and the police for not doing their jobs to enforce rules against Haredim, while noting that most of the people at the parties were vaccinated.
- “When the government forbids only parties but allows movement in the afternoon to Hasidic tisches, to go to a party is not chutzpah: It’s a necessary act of civil disobedience.”
- With the world in so much crisis, Behadrei Haredim reports that a special prayer will be recited Thursday night by the 10 “greatest sages of the generation,” who will get together in person. What could go wrong?
3. Dead giveaway: As for everyone being vaccinated, that may not be totally true. Official numbers show that just 25 percent of people 20-29 have gotten both doses of the vaccine, and only 8.6% of those 10-19, though it’s hard to glean any data from that age group since only those 16 and over are eligible.
- That may be changing, though. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells Israel Hayom that the government is planning to start vaccinating people 12 to 16, or maybe even younger, starting around April, when he expects shots for tots will be approved.
- “I assume the approval will come during April-May, and we’ll get these shots right afterward,” he says. “We’re already in touch with two large companies, I’m in personal contact with their CEOs.”
- Yes, you heard him right. Israel is giving away vaccines to Honduras and Slovakia, and now will need to go out and rely on Netanyahu’s phone skills to get replacement shots for the kids.
- Kan reports that the list of countries Israel plans on slinging up to 5,000 Moderna vaccines to is actually much longer and also includes Cyprus, Mauritania, Hungary, Guatemala, Czech Republic, the Maldives, San Marino, Ethiopia, Chad, Kenya, Uganda, Guyana and more.
- But the station notes there may be some legal issues with Israel’s plans to be the world’s drug dealer, specifically the fact that they are considered “state assets” and must go through an approval process before being given away, as is being done regarding vaccines being sent to the Palestinians.
- According to Kan, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are angry that they’ve been left in the dark again about the vaccine giveaway: “Ashkenazi found out only when the plane from Honduras was on its way, and Gantz found out only after our report on it.”
- Haaretz devotes its lead editorial to slamming the government over its decision to send vaccines abroad while asylum seekers here are being told shots for them will soon run out.
- “It’s not too late for the ministry to come to its senses again and announce that anyone without legal status who wants to be vaccinated may do so. Quite aside from moral considerations, leaving tens of thousands of them unvaccinated will also put everyone around them at risk of infection,” it reads. “If Israel has enough vaccine to send thousands of doses to Guatemala, Honduras and the Czech Republic, it can continue to vaccinate people with no legal status within its own borders.”
4. Vote check: As for Israel sending vaccinations to the Palestinians, Yamina head Naftali Bennett tells ToI’s David Horovitz he would not be opposed, so long as Israel gets something in return.
- “Vis-a-vis Gaza, I would create an equation: humanitarian action for humanitarian action. I’m more than happy to provide them vaccinations provided they act on a humanitarian basis, as required by international law, and return our boys. In terms of the Palestinian Authority … [we] need to ensure that we use our leverage for them to stop paying terror money, blood money.”
- In Haaretz, Chaim Levinson writes that the way the election is shaping up, Bennett is best positioned to be kingmaker. “In effect, the election will be determined on the margins of Bennett’s support, which is why everyone’s attacking him. The most important votes in the election are the ones equal to two Knesset seats that will be cast by voters who are deliberating between Bennett and Sa’ar – the largest reservoir of votes between the two blocs – plus another half a Knesset seat’s worth of voters who are deciding between Yesh Atid and Yamina.”
- Meanwhile, Health Ministry official Sharon Alroy-Pries tells Army Radio that she doesn’t know if all Israelis stuck abroad will be able to make it back in time to even cast a vote. If people want to come back, Israel will need to drastically up enforcement of isolation for those arriving.
- “If someone comes with a variant that’s resistant to the vaccine, the whole vaccination operation will be for naught. I don’t see how in the next couple of weeks we’ll open the skies to anyone who wants to leave or come back.”
- For those who are here for election day, ToI’s Tal Schneider describes the various challenges facing election officials and ideas they are working on to make sure everyone, even the sick and quarantined, can vote: “One idea being explored by officials is the possibility of having drive-thru COVID-19 testing centers double as voting booths, which would save money by not requiring the committee to set up new locations in specially designed tents.”