Same shutdown, different day: What the press is saying on September 14
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Same shutdown, different day: What the press is saying on September 14

The first lockdown was a celebration of solidarity, but from the looks of things, Israel’s second foray into virus-closureville will be a festival of loathing, guilt and anger

Israeli police at the entrance to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot enforce a nightly curfew aimed at containing the coronavirus, September 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli police at the entrance to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot enforce a nightly curfew aimed at containing the coronavirus, September 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Resigned to it: Israel is headed back into a lockdown, set to start on September 18, after ministers voted to okay three weeks of heightened restrictions following a raucous cabinet meeting and the resignation of a key ultra-Orthodox ally from the government.

  • In case anybody did not get the news about the lockdown, Yedioth Ahronoth throws it right in readers’ faces, with a massive full page headline on its front reading “State under lockdown.”
  • “The lockdown will start in the afternoon to give people a chance to prepare for the holiday, but starting at the appointed hour [2 p.m.], the public will be forced to act according to a long detailed list of regulations and restrictions, some of which they already met during the first lockdown over March-April,” notes the tabloid.
  • There are some changes, though, and Channel 12 news asks how this lockdown is different from the last lockdown, which kept Israelis handcuffed to their homes over Passover. Its short answer comes in four simple words “Less tight, more political.”
  • “Pressures within the government led to a significant softening of the restrictions okayed by the cabinet last month,” it notes.
  • Israel Hayom runs a Q and A with attorney Meir Rubin, the head of the so-called civilian coronavirus cabinet, who says a lockdown is the only way to go.
  • “We have no breathing room, since it’s possible enough people have already been infected to get us to the cusp of the Health Ministry’s ability to provide service within two weeks. What we did not manage to do over the last few months it’s doubtful we can succeed in over two weeks,” he says.
  • You can read all about the various regulations set to go into effect Friday (unless they change) here.
  • Haaretz notes that one thing still unclear is whether protests will still be okay, reporting that it had been a point of contention during the Sunday meeting. “The head of health services in the Health Ministry, Sharon Elroi-Price, said that the proposal submitted to the cabinet called for allowing demonstrations only 500 meters from one’s home. But Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit objected to any restriction on demonstrations, as he had during the first wave. … It still wasn’t clear Sunday night what had been decided because the cabinet decision was not released.”

2. Nobody puts Israel in a corner: A decent chunk of the coverage is devoted to the many voices speaking out against the lockdown, and questions about its severity.

  • “This is a fatal blow, there’s no fear of getting infected in a zimmer,” the owner of a vacation cottage in the Golan Heights tells Army Radio. “When they do something sweeping they hurt everyone. They need to decide on measures with a magnifying glass and tweezers.”
  • Channel 13 reports that Yaffa Shasha-Biton, the head of the coronavirus committee in the Knesset, used her pulpit to speak out against the lockdown. “I wish in my heart that somebody will get ahold of themselves and realize that we need to invest in public health, not lock people down.”
  • Despite the fact that the closure will fall over a period when schools were mostly shut anyway due to the holidays, Walla reports that the school system is still against the idea. “Education sources warn that a lockdown that is so long will harm the consistency of learning and keeping contact with students, and cast doubts over the effectiveness of distance learning via Zoom.”
  • Haaretz reports that police are gearing up to deal with all those lockdown opposers who decide to do something about it, like open a store, and quotes police saying that despite the anti-lockdown business community’s loud voices, they are in the minority.
  • “The calls to violate the regulations are a ‘campaign of fear,’ the head of the investigations branch in the police’s central district, Chief Superintendent Omer Waldman, told Haaretz. The talk is that business owners and citizens will not follow the rules ‘but on the ground we see the exact opposite,’ Waldman said. The police assessment and expectation is that the public wants to fight the coronavirus outbreak and will comply ‘without making things difficult for the police, which in the end is the institution that carries out the [government’s] decisions,’” the paper writes.

3. Gotta have faith: In Yedioth, Yuval Karni writes that the lockdown will be the biggest test yet of public faith in the government and the officials making the rules.

  • He notes that during the first wave, Israelis were united in fear and a general sense of solidarity. Now, not so much…
  • “The true test of the second lockdown will be on Friday, after 2 p.m. On Passover eve, the roads were empty. How will Rosh Hashanah eve look for better or worse? Will the public defy the rules, go out to celebrate in their multitudes and break the government’s decisions? The number of cars on the road after the holiday meal will be a significant measure to see the level of public faith in the lockdown,” he writes.
  • From the looks of it, public faith appears to be in short supply: “They are throwing us into a lockdown in a way that’s abandoning us and endangering us. The lack of certainty and planning harms us dramatically, they are upping the stress and lowering public trust,” Hagai Levine, head of the association of public health physicians, tells Army Radio.
  • Health Ministry head Chezy Levy tells Kan that the public can have its freedom back if it gets to 1,000 cases a day.
  • “If we see a drop to 1,000 patients, and proper behavior [from the public], and a downward trend in morbidity, and at the same time stabilization in the hospital system, that will be a positive sign to consider coming out of the lockdown. We will put together criteria in the coming days,” he says.
  • But speaking to the same station, Gabi Barabash, a man who used to hold that position, calls his comments “a scandal,” accusing the government of making mistakes that will put Israel right back where it is within weeks.
  • “This is throwing billions of shekels away. We need to get to a few dozen to 200 a day,” he says, noting that the army is only planning to have its contact tracing system up and running in November, weeks after the lockdown is slated to end. “There’s a problem with the public perception of how much the lockdown will help. With correct management, you can get to a better situation. You can’t disconnect that from the Israeli character, and so at the end of the day is this an issue of management. I do not give the Health Ministry high grades on that.
  • In Israel Hayom, writer Erez Biton expresses hopes that the lockdown will give everyone time to reflect about just getting along and saving some lives.
  • “On the scale of basic values, it seems you can’t put a cost on life or health, even if it means paying a tough, lengthy price. Perhaps you will learn from us, us older adults with existing conditions, guarding our lives even if we pay severely for it by missing out on family parties and big trips and make do with small get togethers and a safer routine … Now that we are entering lockdown, don’t let your spirits sink. It’s incumbent on all of us to pay attention, follow the rules and act as needed to make the best out of this lockdown.”

4. We’re Number 1 with Number 2! Yedioth Ahronoth makes sure to note on its front page the fact that Israel is earning the dubious distinction of becoming the first country in the world to enter a national lockdown twice.

  • Channel 12 news devotes a whole piece to looking at worldwide (really just US and UK) coverage of the “embarrassment.”
  • The channel points out that “most of the outlets in Europe noted the resignation of Yaakov Litzman as housing minister, in protest against restriction on prayer during the lockdown.”
  • Not so Yated Neeman, one of the most read ultra-Orthodox papers and seen as a mouthpiece for Litzman’s UTJ party, which completely papers over the resignation. Army Radio’s Shahar Glick writes that the decision on the editorial omission apparently came from the head of the Degel Hatorah faction, in an alliance with Litzman’s Aguda, which may hint at Degel Hatorah trying to downplay its partner’s populist move.
  • Kan’s Shaul Amsterdamski notes that he asked an Italian friend why their country had such a different experience with the virus, since their peoples are very alike. The friend tells him that in Italy, they didn’t listen at first and then got a tough lesson about how deadly the virus could be, which they are still feeling the effects of.
  • “In Israel, it’s the opposite. In the first wave, the scars that stayed are not health scars, but economic scars. People still have not recovered. So what’s the surprise that nobody wants to be locked down.”

5. A most ceremonious hootenanny: While Israelis are getting ready to lock down, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken off to Washington to sign normalization agreements with the UAE and Bahrain.

  • While the trip garners some press coverage, it pales wildly in comparison to that afforded the looming lockdown, likely to the dismay of those who want the agreement to be as widely feted as possible.
  • Asked about the possibility of postponing the trip due to the lockdown, minister without a cause Tzachi Hanegbi tells Army Radio “you can’t postpone peace or war, these are moments that you’ll be sorry if you miss.” Never mind the fact that the agreement is not a peace deal, and that this is a highly choreographed signing ceremony, not exactly the British surrender at Yorktown.
  • As for how that choreography is going, several Israeli journalists pick up a tweet from a Democratic operative named Jon Cooper claiming that Israel and the White House are at loggerheads regarding social distancing and the need for masks, thus press invites have yet to be sent out.
  • The trip to Washington is apparently so low key that US ambassador Ron Dermer did not even bother to show up to greet the plane Monday morning, Haaretz’s Noa Landau tweets.
  • Landau notes that “a full list of attendees has yet to be released, but US officials hope that other senior officials from Arab and Muslim countries will attend, at least with the presence of their ambassadors to the United States. In addition, the administration still hopes to enlist Sudan, Oman and Morocco to join the normalization initiative with Israel. There is currently no further official signal on the matter.”
  • Channel 12’s Arad Nir writes that US President Trump is motivated in all this to just show he could do whatever Barack Obama could do, like win a Nobel Prize.
  • “Despite the impressive ceremony being planned with Netanyahu and Gulf princes, one can assume he will not win the Nobel Prize. But even he knows that as concerned the US is about the chances for peace in the Middle East, it’s much more worried about failures in dealing with the coronavirus. Trump assumes that a stable and safe vaccine before the election will remove the anger and give him a sure victory on Election Day. He’s pushing it any way possible. If not a peace prize, in his view a Nobel in Medicine will do the job too.”
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