Plagued by lax enforcement: 6 things to know for February 18
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Israel media review

Plagued by lax enforcement: 6 things to know for February 18

Israel tightens border restrictions to stem the coronavirus, but travelers returning from East Asia say they haven’t been stopped and openly disregard home quarantine rules

People wear face masks at Ben Gurion International Airport following reports about the deadly coronavirus having spread worldwide, February 17, 2020. (Avshalom Shoshani/Flash90)
People wear face masks at Ben Gurion International Airport following reports about the deadly coronavirus having spread worldwide, February 17, 2020. (Avshalom Shoshani/Flash90)

1. All talk and no action: In an attempt to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Israel is significantly tightening border controls, including banning all travelers who were recently in China, Thailand, Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong and forcing Israeli travelers in these areas to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their return to the country. But despite the sober restrictions, enforcement for Israelis has thus far been laughable, reports the Hebrew press on Tuesday.

  • Health and airport officials say “the preparedness at the airport to prevent the spread of the virus is too limited and ineffective,” writes Haaretz. “According to the head of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, Prof. Hagai Levine, the airport lacks essential infrastructure to carry out [medical] examinations to check for infections and impose quarantines, and there is no organized program on the matter. A source in the airport authority added that the Health Ministry is not doing enough to locate cases of coronavirus infection and to notify the public about the dangers of the virus.”
  • Israelis returning from the East say they coasted through Ben Gurion Airport security. “Anyone who returned from Thailand in the past few days, with an emphasis on yesterday, entered the country without undergoing a checkup, being accompanied, or any guidance at all. To the contrary, they got on buses and trains,” reports Israel Hayom.
  • It quotes three anonymous recent travelers to Thailand, who upon their return to Israel went back to work, and have no intention of entering a self-quarantine. “In conversation on with them, the message was clear: No one will tell us to be in quarantine, there is no enforcement of this law and we have no intention to stop our lives because of this. The panic is unnecessary and we won’t mess up our lives over it.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth quotes a couple, Tzipi and Chaim Tahor, who returned from a vacation in Thailand and have confined themselves to home quarantine. “What’s weird is that we took the train home [from the airport]. If we’re so dangerous, how did they allow us to do that?” asks Chaim.
  • “The kids left the key outside the door and ran away,” while the “neighbor bought us face masks” and the delivery man “threw the food we ordered in the yard, while I threw the money at him,” he says. Locked at home for 14 days, he tells the paper they’ll “start preparing for Passover. I’ll paint the house and clean thoroughly.”
  • Israel Hayom says the Health Ministry has just eight inspectors nationwide to enforce the home quarantines, who will largely rely on tips from neighbors to the ministry hotline.

2. Home at last? Meanwhile, the dozen Israelis still on board the Diamond Princess liner off Japan will finally be released Wednesday and after being flown home will be placed in quarantine in an Israeli hospital. The remaining three Israelis who have been diagnosed with the deadly virus will remain in Japan for treatment.

  • The Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan will quarantine the Israelis returning from Japan. Gearing up for the job, doctors assigned to treat patients are to be given no other work, and robots will be used to monitor the patients, reports Yedioth.
  • Speaking to the paper, the daughter of a couple who were diagnosed with the virus on the Diamond Princess and moved to a Japanese military hospital begs Israel to bring them home for their continued treatment. “They are in a place far from Tokyo. And the medical staff is not sufficiently professional. They barely know how to take a blood test and don’t speak English. There is no way to explain to my parents what is happening, what the doctors are doing, and what the test results show.”
  • She says her parents haven’t eaten for two days, since their evacuation from the ship. “The food there is not suitable for a Western visitor,” she says. “A Chabad [Hasid] has gone out there to bring them food.”

3. Going to the polls: With just 13 days to Israel’s national election — the third in a year — the papers slip back into election mode after a sleepy campaign season.

  • Haaretz features a spread on how political parties would fare in individual cities (based on the results of the September 2019 vote), amplifying the geographic divides between Israel’s disparate communities and the pockets of homogeneity that some of its biggest cities represent.
  • In Jerusalem, United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman would be crowned prime minister, with the ultra-Orthodox party picking up a prospective 32 out of the Knesset’s 120 seats. It would be followed by Likud with 30 seats, Shas with 20, and Blue and White with 15, allowing the Haredi parties to easily form a coalition with Likud in the imagined scenario. In Tel Aviv, by contrast, Blue and White would win 57 seats, compared to Likud’s 25, and could handily form a broad center-left government with the dovish Democratic Camp (19 seats; the left-wing party has since merged with Labor and Gesher), and Labor (9).
  • Benny Gantz’s Blue and White also came out ahead in Haifa and middle-class strongholds Rishon Lezion, Ramat Gan, Rehovot, Kfar Saba, Herzliya, and Modiin-Macabim-Reut. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud commanded a lead in Petah Tikva, Beersheba, Holon, Netanya, and Bat Yam. United Torah Judaism was also the largest party in Bnei Brak and Beit Shemesh, while in Nazareth the Joint List won 100 percent of the Arab city’s vote.
  • None of the cities listed provide an accurate portrayal of how the vote ultimately turned out, including Rehovot, which has in the past been seen as a barometer of the country.
  • General opinion polls on Monday night, however, underlined that the political deadlock is expected to continue after the March 2 election, with neither the Netanyahu-led bloc or Gantz’s supporters mustering a majority.

4. Casing the Joint (List): In a searing op-ed in Haaretz, columnist Chemi Shalev berates Gantz for ruling out a future coalition partnership with the predominantly Arab Joint List, which he calls “shortsighted politically, tainted morally and counterproductive for Israel and its future well-being.”

  • “Ever since the state was established, Israeli leaders have been calling on the Arab minority to integrate into Israeli society and to fight for their own rights rather than those of their brethren beyond the Green Line. Seventy-two years later, the message has finally gotten through: Take us, we’re ready, Arab leaders are saying. And what is the response of the representatives of the vast majority of Israeli Jews? Forget it. We were bluffing.
  • “Gantz’s position means that he views collaboration with the Joint List as a greater danger to Israel than the continuation of Netanyahu’s erosion of Israel’s rule of law and destruction of its democracy. History will record that Israeli Jews rejected their Arab compatriots’ outstretched hand, which won’t prevent them from depicting them as backstabbing terrorist sympathizers if and when Arab disappointment turns to rage. They are presumed guilty, no matter what.”

5. Money talk: From the right, pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom leads with an “exclusive” expose on what it alleges is a new super-PAC benefiting the left that is masquerading as a get-out-the-vote campaign. But the report itself casts doubt on the claim.

  • “An Israeli organization recently launched an online campaign in which it is calling for Israelis to go out and vote in the election. Is this an innocent and objective campaign seeking [greater] participation in the democratic process or do its operators have another goal, to bring one of the parties or blocs to victory? If you examine who stands behind it, it’s certainly possible the latter option is true.”
  • This is based on the fact that the organization running the Facebook page, HaBrit HaYisraelit, was founded in 2017 by a Labor activist, and others linked to Meretz, former prime minister Ehud Barak, or the former V15 organization that Netanyahu has accused of seeking his ouster in the 2015 vote.
  • The paper claims that a perusal of various Facebook pages run by the group “paints a clear picture of activism that aims to replace the government,” but provides just one example — a call for a commission of inquiry into the so-called submarines affair, in which Netanyahu’s associates were embroiled but the prime minister was not directly implicated. This was posted before the April 2019 vote.
  • The paper also criticizes one of the donors, the Tides Foundation, which also supports Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and has reportedly received donations from philanthropist George Soros, “who is known as someone who donates to many left-wing organizations in the US including organizations that support BDS [Israel boycotts],” it claims. Since 2018, the Israeli group received NIS 3.3 million in donations, 2.9 million of them from abroad, and has spent NIS 2.7 million on Facebook ads in the run-up to the September elections.
  • The report accuses the organization of not reporting its finances to the state comptroller in accordance with a 2017 law. But it then concedes it may not have to. “Is the organization violating the law when it does not call in its posts to vote or not vote for a specific party? It’s definitely possible it isn’t and that its activists found a loophole in the law that allows them to work for the left without reporting to the comptroller.”

6. Kosher krackdown: Israel Hayom reports that the Chief Rabbinate has begun filing criminal charges against restaurants that declare themselves to be kosher without the state-religious authority’s approval.

  • The new punitive measures come after the rabbinate receives approval to bypass the state prosecution and directly file indictments, much as Israel’s Tax Authority does.
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