Shray it forward: 5 things to know for July 17
Israel media review

Shray it forward: 5 things to know for July 17

Authorities appear to fumble another lockdown rollout, as unhappiness with the (mis)handling of the pandemic reaches the point that Israelis are willing to give away free money

Demonstrators protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on July 16, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Demonstrators protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on July 16, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

1. Chaos in the cockpit: After weeks of warning that Israel was “a step” away from a full lockdown, Israeli officials finally decided to take action Thursday, imposing an almost partial kinda-lockdown on weekends, and, for restaurants and gyms, beyond.

  • Or did they? As reports of ministers “deciding” on a weekend lockdown to possibly go into effect the next day proliferated through the breathless Israeli media (including ToI, regrettably), reporting unsourced leaks from a meeting of a few select ministers and experts as if it were a fully approved government decision, it soon became clear that this was just another chapter of Israel’s chaotic response to the resurgence of the pandemic.
  • In the end, an overnight cabinet meeting by Zoom approved a different set of measures, shutting restaurants and gyms (but not pools), and further limiting gatherings, effective from Friday and until further notice, but leaving summer school camps open and holding off on a possible weekend-only shutdown of a more stringent nature until next week.
  • The leftovers of the uncertainty are plain for all to see in the print tabloids, which include the reported restrictions, including those that ministers did not agree to in the end.
  • “The meeting took place after hours of uncertainty among the public in the wake of reporting on apparent restriction … confusion was also noted among ministers, who were not updated on the expected goings-on in sectors they are responsible for,” reports Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • “An already weary and frazzled public is being driven mad by the chaos and the way that over and over again, these decrees are dumped on it without time to prepare and without clear information,” writes Noa Landau in Haaretz.
  • She adds that there does not appear to be much coordination between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his alternate Benny Gantz, let alone other relevant ministers or experts: “At this stage of our acquaintance with the pandemic, Israel’s decision-making processes should also have been charting positively. Instead, we’re going in the opposite direction. Instead of orderly cabinet meetings where clear data are presented and responsible decisions are made by the whole coalition with transparency and long-term planning, we just have Netanyahu, who decides everything alone under cover of limited forums that have no authority and an alternate prime minister, Gantz, who receives updates by fax.”
  • Walla News’s Tal Shalev also describes the government’s actions as “chaos,” accusing Netanyahu of making decisions with no actual data to back it up, and reporting that a discussion on closing beaches was based on ultra-Orthodox Shas leader and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (and perhaps budding lifeguard) claiming that they are “packed like sardines.” (Except that the beaches have not been closed, or at least not yet.)
  • “The coronavirus cabinet has stopped meeting and instead Netanyahu invites from time to time a forum of advisers with a shifting and non-committal cast. Instead of appointing a national explainer to guide and calm the public — the cabinet meetings are broadcast live on twitter with non-stop leaks by ministers passing along quotes to the masses.”
  • Make that ministers and their wives. Channel 12 news reports that model Maya Wertheimer, whose husband Asaf Zamir happens to be tourism minister, published a video to her Instagram complaining about her hubby having to Zoom with Bibi.
  • In the background, the channel notes that Netanyahu can be heard leading the meeting, and while it claims that Wertheimer’s followers got a preview of the coming restrictions, all that can be heard in the background is the prime minister saying “there are serious deliberations, but I agree that we have more or less exhausted the topic for now.”
  • Missing of course from these criticisms is any soul searching from the journalists who spread these unreliable and often contradictory messages, adding to and amplifying the confusion rather than acting like the “national explainer” so badly needed.

2. No way to stop a virus: The decision to shut some parts of the economy over the weekend (when most businesses are closed anyway) is met with a collective “huh?” pretty much across the board, with the move seen as garnering the impressive hat trick of damaging part of the economy, damaging public faith in the decision-makers and doing little to actually stop the spread of the virus.

  • Dr. Hagai Levine, an epidemiologist who is the head of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, tells The Times of Israel that locking down populations for weekends “doesn’t make any logical sense,” and predicts it may do more harm than good by shutting down open spaces on the two days many can actually go out and enjoy them.
  • “We have evidence that the risk of getting infected is 20 to 30 times higher in closed spaces than in open spaces, and therefore there is no logic in preventing people from going outside,” he says.
  • Levine tells Kan that the government is not operating based on epidemiological considerations: “I thought they learned lessons from the first wave, but it seems the professionals are not the ones making decisions. If the public feels that the decisions are ridiculous, they won’t follow them.”
  • In Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom, columnist Ran Reznick pushes the blame onto the Health Ministry for failing to explain its recommendations to the public or to the government. “Public trust is very broken, since it does not understand the logic, correctness and necessity of the Health Ministry’s demands, and ministry heads are not able to explain to the public why there is a need for another closure when Israel was in such a good position at the end of the first wave.”
  • [Health Minister [Yuli] Edelstein is correct, but he has failed repeatedly, along with ministry head Chezy Levy, to convince the government to place restrictions when they are needed urgently, and now we’ve again gotten to the point where we need even stricter restrictions, even to a full lockdown,” he adds.

3. Eat me: The lack of public trust leads to the first sparks of a growing protest Friday morning, with what the media terms the “restaurateur rebellion,” as eatery owners protest the lack of warning over the move.

  • “There’s a serious break in public trust on economics and health beginning to coalesce. I’m hearing restaurateurs who say they will stay open in any case.”
  • Channel 13 reports that many plan to stay open at least on Friday night, since otherwise all their food will go to waste. “The government has carried out a pre-planned murder. People sit there and with the push of a button decide to close the restaurants. They think a restaurant is like Ikea, they don’t understand that unlike screws, food … goes bad and needs to be thrown away,” one owner is quoted telling the channel.
  • Walla news lists six places that say will open and reports that only 21 infections are known to have come from restaurants, citing incomplete and widely pilloried data from the Health Ministry at a Knesset hearing earlier this week.
  • “We bought produce worth thousands of shekels and we have no intention of throwing it away. We don’t think it’s right to throw it in the trash. We see no logic in allowing beaches to stay open and us not, and for sure not a ridiculous decision that comes via the TV in the middle of the night,” says Assaf Liss, who owns a number of Tel Aviv dining spots.
  • “The fact Netanyahu thinks he can order thousands of businesses to shut down with a few hours notice, after they’ve already ordered in large supplies of perishable goods and when they’re on the brink of bankruptcy, practically says it all,” tweets Haaretz journalist Anshel Pfeffer.

4. Make it rain (on Netanyahu’s parade): Even free money is not doing the trick, with reports that growing numbers of Israelis are planning on donating their stimulus checks to those who actually need it.

  • In the wake of Netanyahu’s announcement, Channel 13’s late-night news program “HaTzinor” has opened up a crowdfunding campaign for people interested in redistributing the grants from “those who need less to those who really are in need.”
  • As of Friday morning, some 5,633 Israelis have donated NIS 2,772,112 ($803,767) to the program’s crowdfunding campaign on the online GiveBack platform.
  • “We are inundated with difficult stories,” the show’s staff writes in a post on its official Facebook page. “People who do not receive assistance from the state at all. Children who are disgracefully hungry. Families whose electricity has been cut off. Let’s now pass on to them the grants we have received from the government.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth leads off its front page with a headline crowing that 3 million Israelis will be getting money “for no reason,” and gives readers a helpful guide of dozens of organization they can donate the money to for where they can donate the money to if they “are wondering why am I getting this? Can’t someone use the money more than us?”
  • “Relatively wealthy Israelis will not spend more because the prime minister put an extra NIS 750 ($220) into their bank accounts, and suffering Israelis are desperate for every shekel the government can give them,” writes ToI editor David Horovitz, noting that the largesse of some will not offset the wrongheadedness of the plan.
  • “It is surely not beyond the capabilities of the tax authorities, the National Insurance Institute and other relevant state hierarchies to synchronize their data, and for the prime minister and his team to at least broadly calibrate the handouts.”
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial describes the payouts as a “bribe,” and the paper’s Amos Harel writes that the money is a sign of the pressure being felt by Netanyahu, but predicts that unlike in Gaza, where Qatari handouts are used to mollify the public, it “won’t work on Israelis, whose standard of living prior to the pandemic was colossally higher.”

5. Crisis stew: Protesters returned to Netanyahu’s residence Thursday night, but the streets were much calmer than earlier this week, when a similar protest sparked large clashes with police and a little mob violence to boot.

  • Looking back at the Tuesday protest, ToI’s Aaron Boxerman says that nobody he spoke with “cited one particular issue which had moved them to protest. Several spoke of ‘all of it’ or ‘the whole situation,’ before launching into a laundry list of crises they see taking a toll on Israeli society, with Netanyahu’s corruption charges, the coronavirus pandemic and the economy getting top billing.”
  • Kan’s Mordechai Gilat writes that a “straight line connects the black flag protests, the self-employed protests, the protests by hundreds of thousands of unemployed, the protest by social workers who have been discounted by Netanyahu’s government for years, the protest by members of the Scouts youth movement — a straight line who starting point, whose engine carries the name ‘regime defilement.’”
  • In ToI’s blog site, Tamar Hermann of the Israel Democracy Institute writes that Israel is ripe for revolt, but is sour on the chances of anything actually happening: “Despite all these indicators that we are at the cusp of a wave of significant public protest, a new phenomenon is simultaneously unfolding before us that could stem this possibility. These latest demonstrations are taking place not only while there is distrust in the government, but at a time when there is also growing distrust among significant portions of the population with regards to the real motivations of the protest organizers and those backing them.”
  • As if on cue, Haaretz’s Yossi Verter reports that one such organizer, Abir Kara of the “I am a Shulman” movement, met recently with a public relations expert to talk about his political plans for the future.
  • “What’s your real goal? The adviser wondered. To get to the Knesset and government, Kara told him. Who is your target audience, your electorate? The adviser asked. The center-left mostly, Kara answered. That’s why, he detailed, we chose red for our logo. After the elections we’ll take our seats and join up with Bibi.”
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