SANDFU — Situation almost normal, don’t f*** up: 6 things to know for May 5
Israel media review

SANDFU — Situation almost normal, don’t f*** up: 6 things to know for May 5

Israel is getting back to some sort of new ordinary, albeit with the threat of a fresh virus outbreak and even more restrictions hanging over its head

A boy visits his grandmother at her home in Moshav Haniel on April 5, 2020. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)
A boy visits his grandmother at her home in Moshav Haniel on April 5, 2020. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

1. The great re-opening: With new infections on the wane, Israel is on the way to opening back up, though not quite there yet.

  • Malls, parks, libraries and other spots are being allowed to open, with more places planned for the coming days; limitations on gatherings are also being eased somewhat, though some restrictions remain in place. And schools are ramping back up as well (Read all the new guidelines here).
  • “Almost normal,” reads a top headline in tabloid in Yedioth Ahronoth, calling the easing “dramatic.”
  • The paper notes that malls had been set to open at the end of the week, but minister Ofir Akunis pushed to have it moved up, fearing a weekend crush of shoppers. Akunis, throwing caution to the wind, tells Army Radio, “From my perspective, we could have gone back to normal a lot sooner.”
  • Fellow tabloid Israel Hayom calls the openings “normal with a mask,” dubbing it a “new kind of routine” but also playing up Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warnings that the restrictions could snap back if certain thresholds are passed, like doubling the infection rate in 10 days, or having over 250 seriously ill (even at the height of the outbreak here, only 183 were ever seriously ill at the same time).
  • Channel 12 news highlights the fact that the measurements used for determining whether to re-enact restrictions is the same that its very own anchor Keren Marciano revealed earlier, linking to a report from two weeks ago in which she reported that the Health Ministry would use a similar index for making decisions.

2. So who wins? The new guidelines were announced Monday night by what ToI editor David Horovitz calls a “strikingly upbeat” Netanyahu, noting that others as well saw it as a “coronavirus victory party” for the premier.

  • “With all due respect to the cliche about lies, damned lies and statistics, Netanyahu was able to showcase stats that emphatically endorsed his claim that a combination of three factors — the early preventative steps he introduced (closing the borders, ordering folks to say home, and instituting digital tracking of carriers), the performance of the healthcare system, and Israelis’ general compliance with the restrictions — had placed Israel near the top of the developed world in facing COVID-19,” he writes.
  • Yedioth’s Sever Plotzker also praises Netanyahu, though he singles out the health care community for really saving Israel, saying the country should take pride: “In a short and intensive preventative battle, Israel managed to stop the coronavirus. Not to beat it — only science can do that — but to put limits on its spread and scrunch the rising curve of the number of sick,” he writes.
  • Kan’s Shaul Amsterdamski writes that the Finance Ministry was looking to this moment to claim a long-sought victory, but found itself again stymied by the Health Ministry, which appears to be controlling the agenda: “Both the management of the virus and the statistics remain in the hands of the Health Ministry. The Finance Ministry hoped to put its hands on the wheel, but the wheel for now is even further away than it used to be.”
  • Haaretz devotes its lead editorial to rare praise for Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, who it says used the virus to find real ways to cooperate with East Jerusalemites: “Unlike both his predecessors and most cabinet ministers, Leon isn’t acting just to prove that he’s bolstering Israeli sovereignty or contributing to the ‘unity of Jerusalem.’ … Nevertheless, Leon’s real test still lies before him. Food baskets and even drive-through virus testing stations are important, but East Jerusalem’s real problems require much more.”

3. Too fast, too curious? Despite the hopeful numbers, some are wondering whether Israel is not opening up too much too quickly.

  • In Yedioth, Nadav Eyal writes that it’s “too early to celebrate,” noting that other countries that opened up put methods in place to make sure a second outbreak could be quickly identified and brought under control.
  • “The great costs to all of us of putting the lockdowns in place were not taken advantage of to create tools to prevent it from coming back. If the country is stingy now, if the testing mechanism degenerates again, there is no organized plan in the Health Ministry for another outbreak. The results could be disastrous, even before autumn.”
  • In a sign of that dysfunction, Channel 12 reports that ministers “forgot” to renew a lockdown on the Bedouin city of Hura, which has become Israel’s most intense outbreak epicenter, despite pleas from local and national officials.
  • “The ministerial committee didn’t bring up the request at all in its meeting, and the lockdown on the town, with the highest infection rate in the country (2.94) and which threatens the whole south, expired at midnight.”
  • According to Channel 13 News, a school in Modiin Ilit that was allowed to re-open has already been shut down because a teacher who was in contact with students was found to be carrying the virus.
  • Army Radio reports that preparations for the opening of kindergartens, seen as key to getting the economy back on track, are also not going swimmingly, and daycare workers and kindergarten teachers are demanding help, including from national service volunteers.
  • “Getting back to routine is a lot harder than going into lockdown. We are trying to bring in teaching students and checking all sorts of solutions,” treasury official Shaul Meridor tells the station.

4. Life’s a beach: In the meantime, some are gearing up to hit the sandy sands. Though beaches and pools will only be open for athletic purposes, the Walla news site has some clickbaity content with pictures of all the sparkly bikinis you should be getting ready to wear anyway.

  • “If we are allowed to be optimistic, there’s a feeling that swimming season will open along with the beaches,” it writes hopefully.
  • Israel Hayom reports that large hotels in Eilat are expected to open in two weeks and welcome an influx of internal tourists who really can’t go anywhere else.
  • According to the paper, the city used the last couple months of quiet to repair and upgrade its beaches that were damaged by large storms that buffeted the area in December and January (remember the deadly floods? Seems like they were ancient history). “The clean beaches of Eilat don’t look like Sinai,” the tabloid marvels.
  • Haaretz’s Noa Landau, meanwhile, frets about emergency powers given to the Shin Bet to track Israelis going to the beach, or wherever, taking aim at the High Court for pushing the government to enshrine the measure in law rather than strike it down.
  • “Instead of focusing on the substance of this tactic, that is, the use of extremely invasive tracking technology against Israeli citizens, the justices have once again chosen to focus on procedure – the process by which the regulations were adopted, without the checks and balances that ostensibly exist in the standard legislative process,” she writes.

5. Courting controversy: Most coverage of the High Court in the press, though, focuses on its marathon hearings regarding petitions against the Likud-Blue and White coalition deal.

  • While justices questioned the need and legality of various clauses in the deal, they did not totally disqualify it, leading to reports that the sides will make a few changes or the nation will head back to elections.
  • Channel 12’s Daphna Liel writes that with each criticism raised by the court, Netanyahu’s fortunes seemingly moved up a notch: “There’s almost no point of the deal that didn’t merit some critical question from the justices, up to saying out loud that the deal to them contravened the law. One can’t help but look at this agreement and think that dozens of [clauses] were put in just to be knocked down by the court, so Netanyahu would not be seen as the one pushing the country into fourth elections.”
  • It’s hard not to think that she may have a point, looking at Israel Hayom, seen as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu, which devotes its first six pages to the court cases and bashing the bench.
  • Though its top headline on the matter reports that the justices hinted they won’t strike down the deal, the paper goes full bore against the court, with pundits decrying the “judicial regime” running over the will of the people.
  • “It has never occurred to [petitioning attorneys] Dafna Holtz-Lechner, Eliad Shraga, or some of the justices that voters didn’t go to the polls to vote for or against the chief justice or the attorney general. They clearly and explicitly cast votes for a number of parties and familiar leaders. Therefore the repeated demand that Netanyahu be ousted, so that the High Court can rule on norms is public audacity,” writes Amnon Lord.
  • On the other side, former minister and legal expert Amnon Rubinstein tells Army Radio “we made it so the court could not disqualify the prime minister before a decisive ruling [on their criminal case] because there was a tradition of resigning. We never thought we would come to a situation we are in today.”

6. Tried in the public opinion of court: Israel Hayom also runs a survey which it says shows the public doesn’t trust the High Court. The internet survey, which itself should not be trusted, actually shows the High Court and the justice system with the second highest rates of trust, behind only the army, and higher than the government or media.

  • Nonetheless the paper’s Haim Shine writes that “trust in the court is collapsing.”
  • But other pundits note that the court has always been caught between narratives on the left and right, which this case may only be amplifying.
  • ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur, noting that the fact that the hearings were televised, shows the court attempting to push back against populist claims against it.
  • “The right has often warned that the court’s activism was creating a time bomb of public anger and frustration that would eventually explode in the court’s face. Public opinion, it said, would force a change in judicial policy,” he writes. “But maybe the opposite is true as well. [Chief Justice Esther] Hayut wants to avoid a confrontation with the political echelon while still reining in the constitutional fallout of their politicking. Perhaps two can play at the public opinion game. When it comes to earning the public’s trust, the justices, now visible, may have the advantage.”
  • Yedioth’s Ben-Dror Yemini writes that no matter what the court decides, one side or the other will exclaim that it is the end of democracy. “But there is no need to be a right-winger to know that disqualifying Netanyahu may not be the apocalypse, but it will trample the written law,” he claims.
  • Raviv Drucker, meanwhile, writes in Haaretz that even if the decisions don’t go the way of the petitioners, “the past two days of hearings only proved how strong [the court] is.”
  • “Thirty or 40 years ago, the justices would never have considered drafting provisions in a political agreement not intended to be enacted in law,” he writes. “Viewers watched the justices delving into the nuances of the agreement between the two parties. It would be hard to overstate just how extraordinary this is.”
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