Reservations, anyone? 5 things to know for July 21
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Reservations, anyone? 5 things to know for July 21

As Likud lawmakers accuse one another of pushing economic policies to benefit their relatives, the rules flip back and forth, with Knesset and cabinet unable to agree on compromise

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

People walk next to empty chairs and tables at restaurants on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on July 7, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People walk next to empty chairs and tables at restaurants on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on July 7, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Flip-flop, flippity-flop: Restaurants across the country were ordered to cease seating guests again from 5 a.m., after a last-minute meeting to extend a last-minute extension failed to produce results. But just hours after the cabinet restriction went into effect,  the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee voted to reverse the reversal of its decision.

  • Either because they can’t keep up with all of their politicians’ about-faces regarding closure orders or because they simply refuse to heed them at this point, according to a 103 FM radio report many restaurants decided to remain open Tuesday morning anyway, seating guests outside as was expected to be allowed when the Coronavirus Committee had its way.
  • The Kan public broadcaster says Coronavirus Committee chair Yifat Shasha-Biton met last night with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein to try and hash out a compromise. The two agreed on allowing eateries to seat customers outside, but broke on Shasha-Biton’s demand to allow restaurants to seat a smaller number of people indoors.
  • The bad blood between Shasha-Biton’s panel and cabinet ministers is only growing, as the committee also voted yesterday to reverse the government’s closing of beaches and pools on weekends. The rebel Likud lawmaker’s approach has earned her quite a few fans in the media, among them Ynet’s Moran Azulai, who writes, “Members of the Israeli government should be invited to the Coronavirus Committee session. Those who sit near Yifat Shasha-Biton will see how seriously and thoroughly she examines the data and is not willing to destroy the livelihood of families for nothing. The fact that ministers slap her down instead of saying ‘thank you’ is a shame. Especially for us.”
  • Army Radio’s Yanir Cozin explains that the main reason Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government have allowed Shasha-Biton to keep her job is because they are in the midst of passing legislation that will give the cabinet more authority to pass sticking measures to curb the pandemic, and oversight over the restrictions will be shifted from the Coronavirus Committee to a different Knesset panel.
  • Even the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom is having a hard time spinning the government’s coronavirus restrictions into something logical, headlining its (page 3-4) story on the matter, “Opening-closing.” The paper quotes one restaurant owner who says the “accordion” policy of gradually opening and closing the economy is costing him his physical and mental health.

2.  Catastrophically chaotic: Kan’s Shaul Amsterdamski reviews the various U-turns in coronavirus-related restrictions, which also include the back-and-forth regarding summer schools along with a stimulus program, with grants that Netanyahu initially vowed would be sent to all Israelis but later, caving, agreed to hold off on sending to the most wealthy amid public outcry.

  • “Please, enough already,” he says. “Take a weekend at a hotel and do some team-building exercises. Build trust between one another and decide what you want to do. If you cannot do this, we’re better off just heading to another election. I cannot believe I’m saying this, but this is what lots of people in the government are actually saying today.”
  • ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur explains that unlike the first wave of the pandemic when Netanyahu had the backing of bureaucrats in the relevant ministries, this time around, he’s lost them. “The second wave required a different sort of response. Many agencies of government, led by competing politicians, had to band together to forge a complex pandemic response that no one agency could piece together alone. That’s when Netanyahu’s personality and governing methods failed him,” he writes.
  • “Netanyahu never worked well with fellow politicians, preferring to lean on the bureaucrats to manage the state responsibly and effectively. Now disconnected from the clerks, while the second wave of the pandemic gathers steam and the economic emergency deepens, it is no longer clear how he intends to right the ship and steady the economy. The leadership ranks he has traditionally relied upon in the bureaucracy are shrinking steadily as he flees the public’s wrath by blaming everyone else. There may soon be no one left in that policymaking circle but his political campaigners,” he adds.
  • Kan’s Gili Cohen reports that the part of the reason for the government’s confusing policy may have to do with the fact of Netanyahu having lost focus. She says that the premier shut off his camera and microphone for hours during the most recent cabinet meeting, with “some ministers” — clearly those in Blue and White — wondering (and leaking to the Kan reporter) whether Netanyahu was busy dealing with his legal matters. “Likud officials” responded to the allegations, asserting that the opposite was true and that the prime minister was tending to other coronavirus-related affairs.
  • Meanwhile, Channel 13 reports that the only ones appearing to be enjoying the pandemic are those stuck in coronavirus hotels like the Bnei Dan in Tel Aviv. Neighbors have complained of nonstop noise coming from the DJ stand that hotel customers have set up to allow for all-day parties.

3. Faction in-fighting: The squabbling is not just between the Knesset and the government but also between various members of the Likud party. During yesterday’s Finance Committee session broadcast live on the Knesset Channel for the entire country to see, Finance Minister Israel Katz sparred with coalition chairman Miki Zohar, with each lobbing personal attacks at the other.

  • Katz claimed Zohar was pushing for policy changes to benefit his family interests. In response, Zohar called Katz “out of touch with the people” and issued a public call for Netanyahu to fire him. Zohar also said he wanted to speak about Katz’s wife’s business, claiming it was playing a role in how the finance minister was making decisions.
  • Drawing conclusions from the spat, Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes, “During all the discussions that took place two or three months ago on relaxing coronavirus restrictions, the unbecoming intervention of ministers on behalf of various interest groups and sectors was clear, and it sometimes stemmed from family ties.”
  • Kan’s Yaron Deckel — rather giddily — offers analysis on the rupture within Likud, declaring that “the exchange of accusations between Minister Israel Katz and MK Miki Zohar shows what a ruling party looks like when the ground begins to shake beneath its feet.” He claims that the more Netanyahu is seen to be losing control of the government’s pandemic response, the more such squabbles will increase within the party.
  • Walla’s Tal Shalev reports that just hours after the spat, Katz’s associates began sending automated messages to Likud members, calling on them to speak out against Zohar’s efforts to make the finance minister the “scapegoat” of the pandemic. The texts appeared reminiscent of the ones Israelis are bombarded with in the months leading up to elections, leading her to wonder whether such a scenario is closer to repeating itself sooner than many had originally believed.

4. Why can’t we be friends? Army Radio reports that for now, Netanyahu is standing by Zohar, who has long defended the premier passionately in just about all forums, but that loyalty does have limits.

  • A Likud minister tells the channel’s Moriah Asraf that “while Netanyahu needs loyal people, there is an limit to the denigration. If Zohar turns into a burden for the prime minister, Netanyahu will distance himself from him. And at this point, he’s not very far from doing so.”
  • Apparently feeling the heat, Walla reports, Zohar sent a letter to Likud members: “The stronger my support grows, the more that forces of opposition from within our movement try and rise up to bring me down.”
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, Yuval Karni puts together a handy-dandy chart breaking down who’s against whom in Likud, as the infighting grows.
  • A government health adviser, Ben Gurion University’s Dov Schwartz, tells Army Radio that “decision makers are operating solely for political reasons. Each person cares about his sector and who will or will not vote for him.”
  • In Israel Hayom, Orna Baron–Epel writes that “there are two sides to the story” and that while citizens have every right to hold their lawmakers accountable, the public also plays a role in how the pandemic spreads and the “blame game” that has been taking place in recent weeks “leads to a lack of faith” in the country’s decision makers, which only can make matters worse.

5. In-visibility test: Social workers have entered their third week of protests for improved work conditions, with little expectation that a compromise with the government will be reached any time soon.

  • Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli, whose office is responsible for the thousands currently protesting in the streets, tells Kan their demands are “justified” and they must be met immediately, raising the question of what authority exactly he holds as cabinet minister if not to be able to address the needs of his workers. “There is blatant disregard taking place here. An abandoned baby, a battered woman — there should be an understanding that there are thousands of such cases and the social cost is huge. There should be a quick and vigorous action to address the demands of the legitimate protest,” he says.
  • The plight of the social workers leads the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth, which refers to them as “invisible.” “I would like to invite the Prime Minister and the finance minister to my office. Let them decide for themselves which case I should take. Should I treat a boy who is being sexually assaulted at home on a regular basis, or a girl who is being regularly beaten by her parents. We do not have the manpower and do not have the tools to take care of both at the same time,” social worker Tamar Turjeman writes.
  • In Walla, another social worker is invited to write a guest column regarding their protest. “When welfare services are collapsing and you need help, you will not want to be number 294 in line,” writes Michal Gur, pleading for public support in the fight with the Finance Ministry for funds.
  • The Associated Press interviews some Israelis who are done waiting for the situation to improve in their respective fields and have instead shifted careers. “A year ago, Cijay Brightman was doing sound and lighting for a Madonna performance in Israel. Now, after the coronavirus wiped out live events, he’s making sandwiches, slicing cheese and serving customers at a Tel Aviv deli.”
  • “Sometimes, I’m losing it,” says Brightman, 36, slicing sausage for a customer at the deli. “You worked with the biggest star in the world … with Madonna, and you were working on her stage, and a day after you just realize that you are nothing.”
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