Serenity now! 6 things to know for May 12
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Israel media review

Serenity now! 6 things to know for May 12

Scenes from mass crowding at Lag B’Omer bonfires in Haredi neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh have media tearing its hair out or getting beat up for covering them

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

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis celebrate the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem on May 11, 2020. (Screen capture/Twitter)
Ultra-Orthodox Israelis celebrate the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem on May 11, 2020. (Screen capture/Twitter)

1. Dance like police aren’t watching: Hundreds, if not thousands, of residents thronged the streets in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim and in Haredi neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh and appeared to have been so blinded by the bonfires they kindled to celebrate the mystical holiday of Lag B’Omer that they lost track of the two meters they were supposed to be keeping from one another.

  • Tweeting footage of the scene from Mea Shearim, Kan’s religious affairs reporter Yair Ettinger sarcastically quips that participants were in the midst of the introspection that Interior Minister Ayreh Deri said was warranted in Haredi communities, which have accounted for nearly 70% of the country’s coronavirus cases.
  •  Haaretz reports that after seeing the crowding, National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat warned that we could be looking at the source of the next major outbreak, similar to the one caused by Purim parties in those same neighborhoods.
  • For a depiction of Ben Shabbat’s reaction, look no further than the late, great Jerry Stiller:

  • “The law applies to everyone, but there were those that chose to honk at it,” Yedioth Ahronoth’s Gilad Cohen writes in his dispatch from Mea Shearim.
  • As he tried reporting from one illegal bonfire in Beit Shemesh, Channel 13 correspondent Yossi Eli and his cameraman were verbally and physically harassed by several extremists, with one of them grabbing the microphone and yelling, “It’s all lies, there’s nothing illegal!” At least one rock was thrown at them and appeared to hit Eli as he broadcast live.
  • Army Radio’s Yuval Segev publishes footage of one bonfire INSIDE a building in Mea Shearim, where some 40 ungloved, unmasked ultra-Orthodox locals held hands and danced “as if there’s no coronavirus,” which is how the national religious Srugim website phrased it in its headline.
  • But gatherings aren’t just taking place in ultra-Orthodox towns. Similar crowds are filmed attending the funeral of the nephew of the council chairman of the Arab municipality of Tur’an, which was allowed to go forward with seemingly no enforcement from police.

2. Getting schooled: The Education Ministry has announced its format for returning all students to school next week and it’s a doozy. Fourth through sixth graders will return for five to six hours per week while seventh through 10th graders will return for two to three days per week.

  • Modiin Mayor Haim Bibas, who heads an organization representing city leaders and regional council heads, skewers the plan and declares that those who formed it “have gone mad.”
  • “Either open the entire education system or don’t open it at all,” he declares in a Israel Hayom front page story headlined “Mayors against the Education Ministry.”
  • A request by the Education and Finance ministries to increase the maximum allowed size of 4th-6th grade classes (20 each) in order to relieve some of the pressure was rejected by Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, according to Haaretz.
  • “As a father of a child in the fourth grade, I admit that I do not understand why it is so urgent for government ministers to return children from grades four through ten to school, rather than addressing the problem of preschoolers first who remain at home. The urgent need for the economy is there, not in the middle schools. If you want to manage risks, then manage the risks. What you are doing now is just a mess,” writes Kan financial reporter Shaul Amsterdamski.

3. Erdan is the new Eban: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday announced that Likud minister Gilad Erdan will be appointed Israel’s ambassador both to the United Nations and to the United States, as the premier works to divvy up the ministerial portfolios designated for his right-wing religious bloc in the next government.

  • “The 49-year-old Ashkelon native won’t be the first to hold both roles, but doing so is exceedingly rare. In the 1950s, legendary diplomat Abba Eban  was ambassador to both the US and the UN. Erdan is not known for lack of self-confidence, but these are big shoes to fill,” writes The Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren
  • “Erdan’s appointment to Turtle Bay is an act of political expediency, similar to Netanyahu’s appointment to the same post five years ago of Danny Danon, who was an equally ambitious up and coming Likud minister whom the prime minister wanted to shunt across the Atlantic,” according to Ahren.
  • Israel’s relations with the US are being “reduced to a political party game,” laments Shalom Lipner, a former adviser to Israeli prime ministers and today a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
  • Channel 13’s Barak Ravid points out that there are currently just four countries that are entrusting one individual with both posts: Andorra, San Marino, Djibouti and the Maldives. Combined, their GDP reaches to just about 1/37th of Israel’s.
  • Meanwhile, Army Radio’s Michael Hauser Tov reports that with Erdan only slated to hold the US envoy role for a matter of months, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz is planning on replacing him with former Air Force commander Amir Eshel when the centrist party leader becomes premier.

4. Up is down. Yamina is left: For what feels like the umpteenth time, Likud and Yamina have announced the end of their coalition negotiations, with each swearing that they’re perfectly content going their separate ways before restarting talks shortly thereafter.

  • “Tonight it became finally clear that Bennett and Yamina have decided to split from the right-wing bloc… and join the left-wing opposition with Yair Lapid and Heba Yazbak,” Likud says in a statement rather similar to the one it made hours earlier.
  • “Likud has released its a second announcement in 24 hours, blaming Yamina for joining Joint List MK Heba Yazba… Reminder: Likud officials just last week sat down to celebrate the Iftar meal in a completely legitimate and normal manner with members of the Joint List, including Yazbak. Enough of these aggressive PR statements,” writes Globes correspondent Tal Schneider.
  • In one line in its lengthy statement that managed to particularly irk Yamina supporters, Likud claims that the national religious party was demanding four senior posts in the government “that have nothing to do with religious Zionism.”
  • “Netanyahu’s claim that issues such as the courts, transportation and health have ‘no connection to religious Zionism’ necessitates the transfer of Likud [lawmakers] Elkin, Hotovely, and Edelstein to the position of deputy education minister in a rotational capacity. It is important that as religious Zionists they do not stray beyond the scope of the positions allocated to them by the prime minister,” writes Channel 12’s Amit Segal sarcastically.
  • But Channel 13’s Akiva Novick responds that he doesn’t understand such criticism. “The religious Zionist camp continues to vote in droves for Netanyahu without any conditions, so why should he stop disparaging them?”
  • ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur adds that Novick’s point is true “even without its cynicism. Yamina has to prove that it represents an actual public that follows it even when it says goodbye to Bibi. If this is not true, then what right does it have to make any demands of Netanyahu?”
  • In Israel Hayom, Mati Tochfeld holds on to hope that Yamina will still join the government, saying a decision by the national religious party to head to the opposition would represent a major loss for the right wing bloc “after it finally managed to overpower Gantz,” who had long vowed not to join a government that included the far-right and Haredi parties and is now prepared to do just that.

5. Annexation nation: But Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev writes that with Netanyahu, and more importantly, Trump already on board the annexation train, there really is no need for Yamina in the government anymore.

  • “With his back against the wall, Trump won’t dare disappoint evangelicals. They asked for annexation, and annexation they will get,” he writes, suggesting that there is no need for the extra pressure that Yamina would likely apply from within the opposition.
  • Apropos annexation, Israel Hayom leads its front page with an interview of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, including a huge-font headline of the top diplomat’s quote that the matter is “an Israeli decision in the end.”
  • Pompeo tells the Netanyahu mouthpiece that he’s coming despite virus scares (or perhaps because of them, given the differences between the situation here versus in the US) in order “to bring them [Netanyahu and Gantz] up to speed on the progress we think we are making on President Trump’s Vision for Peace. It is a pretty detailed and realistic and implementable concept and I wanted to share with them some of the work that we are continuing to do on that.”
  • Haaretz’s Noa Landau reports that several EU member states, including France, Ireland, Sweden, Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg, are pushing for the multinational body to threaten Israel with punitive action in a bid to deter the new Israeli government from carrying out the move.
  • According to Landau, the proposed steps include announcing that Israel would be prevented from entering into trade agreements with the bloc, receiving EU grants or participating in other forms of cooperation with the union.

6. Broken: Israelis also woke up to the heart-wrenching news that 21-year-old Sgt. First Class Amit Ben-Ygal was killed in the northern West Bank, after being struck in the head by a large rock during a predawn arrest raid.

  • The rock hit the soldier directly in the head. The soldier was wearing a helmet, but it hit him at an angle, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman tells reporters.
  • “I don’t have anything else. I am broken, I am broken, I am broken, I am crushed,” says Ben-Ygal’s father to the Kan public broadcaster.
  • Elchanan Gruner from the far-right Hakol Hayehudi news site uses the opportunity to highlight an interview Kan military correspondent Roy Sharon conducted hours earlier with an IDF officer operating in the West Bank during which the latter admitted that scenes of rocks being thrown at army vehicles being pelted with rocks as they zoom out of villages upon finishing arrest raids may not play well to the camera, “but don’t really hurt.”
  • “Go tell that to the parents of the Golan fighter who was killed tonight in a similar incident,” Gruner sneers. Sharon responds by blasting the far-right reporter for comparing apples and oranges, saying Ben-Ygal wasn’t in a military vehicle leaving a village when he was attacked.
  • Sharon goes on to respond to similar criticism from extremist settler Meir Ettinger, who claims that last night’s incident is further proof that the IDF needs to return and take over all Palestinian villages. “I love the types of people who did not bother to serve a minute in the army (and were even rescued by IDF forces from a Palestinian village after their price tag attack went awry) but know exactly what the IDF needs to do in order to ‘win,'” the Kan correspondent retorts.
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