Israel media review

Rules are meant to be contagious: 5 things to know for June 8

As Netanyahu chides Israelis for complacency on rising virus infections, a top pundit says health officials need to chill, bow out of the limelight, and keep schools open

Israelis wearing face masks for fear of coronavirus walk in Jerusalem's city center after the government eased some lockdown measures that it had imposed in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus, on June 02, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israelis wearing face masks for fear of coronavirus walk in Jerusalem's city center after the government eased some lockdown measures that it had imposed in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus, on June 02, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

1. This ain’t New Zealand: Amid a rise in COVID-19 cases, and a downturn in public compliance with the pandemic rules, Israel Hayom leads with a “special report” that is obvious to all Israelis who have recently ventured outdoors, namely that many aren’t abiding by the new guidelines.

  • “The virus of disregard,” reads its front-page headline.
  • “Malls, stores and chains around the country are not always careful about masks, hand sanitizer and fever checks, despite the rise in coronavirus infections,” it says. It reports that most malls in the central Israel area are keeping to the rules, while businesses in Kfar Saba see them merely as recommendations, and in Jerusalem the rules are partly enforced.
  • The front-page report in the pro-Netanyahu daily echoes a message from the premier on Sunday, in which he warned: “Anyone who says that there was no danger in the first place, or that there is no danger now, is misleading the public and encouraging behavior that endangers public health and the lives of many. Part of the clear increase that we have seen in the last eight days in the rate of infection in Israel is due, as was expected, to the easing of restrictions we have made in order to open our economy. But some also stems significantly from a serious slackening in keeping the rules on masks, social distancing and hygiene.”
  • The number of daily virus cases began to surge nine days ago, but remains relatively steady at around 100 cases per day. Tel Aviv over the past three days has surpassed the number of Jerusalem new cases, and most of the outbreak has been linked to schools.
  • Over 130 schools have been shuttered, and 17,000 teachers and students are in quarantine.
  • Trains were meant to resume on Monday after nearly three months, but the reopening was delayed amid disagreements on how to cap the number of passengers. Also up in the air is whether wedding and event halls, set to reopen on June 14, will be permitted to do so amid the uptick.
  • Meanwhile, a controversial bill that would introduce emergency regulations aimed at tackling the coronavirus pandemic is being reviewed Monday by top ministers. The bill has been denounced by critics as giving the state sweeping powers that would infringe on personal rights, with little oversight.
  • The ministers will also discuss whether to continue easing restrictions or reintroduce emergency rules.

2. We’re sick of this: In a column for Israel Hayom, health correspondent Maytal Yasur Beit-Or attributes the laxity to a government failure to adequately explain the importance of mask-wearing to the public.

  • “The public will wear masks if it feels there is a rationale to the rules — and it believes it,” she writes.
  • In Yedioth, veteran columnist Nahum Barnea rails against what he describes as power-hungry, attention-seeking, fear-mongering health officials, who he claims are overreacting to the uptick in virus cases around the country and whose judgment is impaired by their newfound love of the public limelight.
  • “In the first weeks of the crisis, there was a certain logic in inflating the public panic. The world was dealing with a pandemic and no one knew how serious it was. As the world gained more experience, it understood it better. This is not the flu, but it’s also not the end of the world. The threat in primarily to the at-risk groups. Those who maintain hygiene, distance, and a mask generally don’t get infected. We can relax.
  • “The pandemic has been put in proportion, but not the Health Ministry. The apocalyptic forecasts continued in the studios, as did the displays of power. They have forgotten why they made Israelis panic in the first place.”
  • “When one child is infected, the Health Ministry insists on closing the whole school. What does that contribute, other than panic and awful shaming of children who have done no wrong? On what basis does the director general warn of a second wave? Now, when the healthcare system knows more, is it more prepared and less panicked? When the risk groups know how to deal with it better? Why the panic?
  • “It’s not the schools that need to be closed now, but the access of the bureaucrats to the [television and radio] studios,” he writes.

3. Right vs. right: Talk of annexation continues to dominate the agenda, with a split among settler leaders on the Trump administration’s peace plan leading the day.

  • “Two sides to sovereignty,” reads a Yedioth headline on the right-wing split, which cites two settler leaders whose views do not appear that far apart.
  • “Who would have thought that applying sovereignty over areas of Judea and Samaria would cause such a headache for the ideological right,” it writes.
  • The paper quotes Hebron Regional Council chairman Yochai Damri as the dissenting voice. “Every time we relinquished territory, we got violence,” he says.
  • Damri opposes the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state, saying it should be stipulated to the Palestinians that the territory will be returned to Israel if they don’t reach a final deal; is against declaring some isolated settlements as “enclaves” surrounded by Palestinian areas, and demands to see the map being hammered between Israel and the US. But he also says the proposal should not be postponed and Israel should pursue it, albeit with “corrections.”
  • The paper contrasts that with the stance of Assaf Mintzer, the mayor of the Elkana settlement.
  • “The settlement movement has a golden opportunity and no one knows when it will return,” he says. “It pains me that some of my colleagues, who are speaking up seemingly on behalf of the settlements, are working to thwart it.” He says that most of the West Bank mayors on the umbrella Yesha Council back the US proposal.
  • The pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom, spotlighting a meeting between Netanyahu and a dozen settler leaders, glosses over the divide with the headline, “The heads of the Judea and Samaria councils support Netanyahu.”

4. New sheriff in town: As the George Floyd protests continue worldwide, Haaretz, in its editorial and a personal account by a journalist, continues to condemn police violence at an anti-annexation protest in Tel Aviv, which saw its photographer Tomer Applebaum beaten and hospitalized and reporter Lee Yaron shoved.

  • Yaron, in an op-ed, describes how police continued to manhandle her, even after she informed them she was a journalist and flashed her press card multiple times. “‘You’re a protester,’ the policeman declared. ‘I’m not a protester,’ I tried to explain, again, frustrated. ‘I’m a journalist.’ It didn’t impress him.”
  • Police, in a statement, said they weren’t aware Applebaum was a photojournalist.
  • “The police explanation reflects the depth of the problem, since if Applebaum weren’t a photojournalist, but a protester — then why would the police have the legitimization to operate in such a violent fashion?” the paper writes in its editorial.
  • It proceeds to blame the violence on the new Public Security Minister Amir Ohana and his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • Ohana’s goal, it argues, “is to signal to the enemies of the government — including the police commissioner, attorney general, High Court justices, asylum seekers, Arab citizens, journalists, or just regular leftists, that the ‘days of innocence’ under former minister Gilad Erdan are over. Ten days ago, Ohana declared that a person who attacks a police officer will face retaliation. Two days ago, we saw the ramifications of that statement.”
  • “The behavior of the police officers at the left-wing protest underlines the changing spirit of the commander. If for years, the ‘left’ was vilified and the victim of incitement, now it seems it’s moving from words to actions.”
  • The sweeping blame for Ohana in Saturday night’s incident, however, ignores years of documented police violence against demonstrators, including Ethiopian-Israelis, ultra-Orthodox, settlers, Arab Israeli and Palestinian protesters.

5. Not a gentleman, soon not an officer? Haaretz also reports that as a result of its expose on Lt. Guy Eliyahu, who carried out an unauthorized raid in neighboring Syria, in which two or three Syrians were killed in a gunfight, the IDF officer will likely be removed from the military.

  • Eliyahu has been summoned, it reports, despite denials from the army about the incident.

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