Israel media review

Shooting from the hip: What the press is saying about boosters, blazes and Biden

Israel wastes no time getting 3rd COVID vaccine doses out, with more seen on the way; a massive blaze sparks questions; and what Kabul chaos means for DC’s BFF in the Mideast

A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot at a mobile Magen David Adom center on Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, on August 14, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot at a mobile Magen David Adom center on Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, on August 14, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

1. Shoot first, ask questions later: Israel’s decision to lower the eligibility age for vaccines to 40 is about as surprising as a United States troop pullout turning into a fiasco (more on that later), but it’s still fairly big news here, the first country in the world to offer boosters to such a large chunk of its general population.

  • How unsurprising was it? Channel 12 news reported on Wednesday, even before the panel of experts and officials met to hash over the data, that the expansion of the program would be approved (and hours later, reported that experts expect the program will be expanded to everyone by the start of September).
  • The channel reported that the experts were so unanimous in recommending a third dose for the younger crowd that they didn’t even bother taking a vote, and even public health chief Sharon Alroy-Pries, who had previously counseled waiting until we have data on those 50 and over — who started getting the shot a week ago — dropped her opposition.
  • It was so expected that even though Health Ministry director Nachman Ash had yet to give final approval, health funds were offering appointments from first-thing Friday to anyone in the age group (though they were apparently caught off guard by the addition of various professional groups, such as teachers and prison guards, as noted by ToI).
  • Forget appointments. Some didn’t even bother waiting for the final approval to give out the shots. “Once I heard that vaccinations were being opened to ages 40 and up, I went to the Meuhedet clinic without an appointment and hoped for the best, and indeed they agreed to give me the shot on the spot,” a Ramat Hasharon man told Walla, in comments published well before the sun came up on Friday.
  • It was so expected that within minutes of the late Thursday announcement of the panel’s recommendation, which pointedly noted it was not final, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s people were sending out a statement to the press saying the 49-year-old premier would get the shot Friday morning.
  • “No wasting time,” reads a headline on a Ynet story that notes positively the decision of just about everyone to do away with regulatory processes.
  • Ash indeed is all for not wasting time, telling Army Radio that he wants everyone to get the booster, eventually. “The plan is to vaccinate everyone who got inoculated five months or more ago, but right now we want to give [certain groups] preference, and so those 40 and over or teachers will get the shot,” he says.
  • Israel Hayom is ready. “The recommendation: booster shots for everyone,” reads its misleading top headline, which is based on a sentence in the Health Ministry announcement noting that younger groups will be offered the third shot in the future.
  • Kan, which goes as far as including links to all four health funds for people to make vaccination appointments in its news story, shows off the positive effects from the third shot with graphs comparing rising infection rates among all the whippersnappers younger than 60 with dropping rates among the boomers.
  • ‘True, they also act more cautiously, but according to many experts, the trend proved the efficacy of the third dose,’ the station reports.

2. Flame and blame: The fires that scorched hillsides around Jerusalem at the start of the week may be out (for now), but the memory of them is stark.

  • Channel 13 news reports on the dramatic rescue of patients at the Eitanim psychiatric hospital, which looked like it was about to go up in flames with 150 patients, when four heroic cops showed up to lead a convoy of cars to safety.
  • “People said: ‘We are going to say goodbye.’ We stood together and said it was all over,” staff member Anat Revach tells the station. “We said that either we burn here or the flames get us on the road — and just then there came the call: ‘We’re evacuating.’”
  • Making the heroic story somewhat less heroic is the fact that the hospital was in fact spared from the fire in the end, meaning they might have actually been safer staying put, though that was impossible to know at the time. The channel doesn’t explore that angle, but reporter Omri Maniv does post a video of the flames approaching before being stopped by a fire break, and a picture of the hospital remaining unscathed while its surroundings were completely burnt.
  • In ToI, Sue Surkes says that ecologists fear that the damage from the fire was so bad it will be difficult for the forest to recover. “The temperatures were so intense that we’re worried about the creatures that live underground,” says Yariv Malichi, central district ecologist for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. “It pressed the reset button for insects. We will have to see how they recover.”
  • But in Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer and Nir Hasson note that the problem may be in the forest recovering too quickly, with climate change liable to make fires of this type a regular occurrence. “One of the problems is that the fires encourage the pine trees’ reproduction. The tree ignites and burns quickly, but its seeds are tough and survive the fire and, after a winter or two, a low, very dense layer of pines covers the earth,” they write. “If allowed to continue growing, the burned areas will turn into overcrowded woods of weak, thin-trunked trees that will become a powder keg in future fires.”
  • Others, meanwhile, are still looking to the past and trying to figure out how the fires got going.
  • After days of reports about suspicions that the fire was started by arson, Kan reports that only on Thursday did investigators find “the first evidence that could maybe be linked to how the fire started,” without giving details. The station notes that a police investigation to find those responsible has netted bupkus.
  • But other news outlets report that the Shin Bet is getting involved in the police investigation, which likely means someone thinks the fire was started by a nationalistically motivated arsonist.
  • Channel 13 reports that five fires in the Jerusalem Hills over the past 3.5 months have been deemed arson — with almost all suspected to have a nationalistic motive.
  • Ynet thinks that it has a smoking gun, publishing satellite pictures from a NASA fire monitor program the website says it got ahold of (the pictures are actually publicly available) that appear to show three fires starting at the same time. (In fact, the program appears to only show that three fires were active at the same time, and does not include when they started.)
  • Nonetheless, Analyst Amitai Dan tells the site that “with the help of the tool we can see the three fires, the distance between them, and to understand that the chances negligence caused the fire, or that it was natural, are almost zero.”

3. Turns out these colors do run: Afghanistan is thousands of miles away, but Israel is closely watching what’s going on there, both as a global news story and also how it will affect Israel and its friends or enemies.

  • Walla reports that Israeli officials “are very concerned over the pictures coming out of Afghanistan, and senior officials even said that they telegraph a problematic message regarding US involvement in the Mideast. Israel is being careful not to make the criticism public, but in private conversations, senior officials have expressed astonishment at the US intelligence failure in Afghanistan.”
  • Not everybody is so quiet. “For Israel, the debacle is a reinforcement of our insistence that we, and we alone, put our lives on the line in the defense of this country — even as we forge and nurture our alliances with our vital allies, and none more so than the United States. We do not and must not ask US or any other forces to risk their lives for us, and we dare not rely on any other country or alliance to protect us from our enemies,” ToI editor David Horovitz writes in a scathing review of the chaos unfolding there and the perceived loss of American power.
  • “Whenever the world’s most powerful nation suffers a humiliating foreign policy failure, it’s going to have far-reaching international effects, including for countries, like Israel, who have based so much of their own deterrence and national security on the credibility of their strategic partnership with the United States,” John Hannah, senior fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, tells ToI’s Lazar Berman.
  • Israel Hayom editor Boaz Bismuth goes as far as using the debacle to argue that Bennett should cancel his trip to Washington next week, the first White House visit by a prime minister not named Netanyahu in some 13 years.
  • “It appears that with one failed mission in Afghanistan, [US President Joe Biden] has managed to wreck the only brand that helped him be elected: ‘I’m not Trump.’ … Bennett’s arrival at the White House this coming Thursday will be Biden’s first chance to rebuild his brand. The stamp of approval Bennett will provide him by sitting with him in the Oval Office will be the first signal that Biden is trying to look like a president who doesn’t abandon his allies, and the administration’s first step toward the difficult year the Democratic Party is expected to face — interim elections,” Bismuth writes. “If Bennett lines up with Biden at this particular time, he will be seen as offering him approval and forgiveness, and will thereby get pulled into the American political storm.”
  • In Haaretz, Zvi Barel writes that Biden’s lack of support for the US military presence in Afghanistan is a blow to the West Bank settlement enterprise, which he somehow conflates with a Palestinian nation-building exercise.
  • “Suddenly, in one fell swoop, Biden is stating that an occupation can only have concrete, security-related aims and when they’re achieved, it needs to end,” he writes. “Nation building or democratization, the fulfillment of the vision of the prophets or economic exploitation — none of these are included in his user’s manual for occupiers. In the process, he has also pulled the rug out from under the justifications that Israel has created over many years for continuing to maintain the occupation.”

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