Israel media review

Tales of a 7th grade nothing: What the press is saying on December 6

The last kids are finally allowed back in school, where they’ll perfect their dodgeball and decoupage skills, as a mall battle brews and the center-left gets lost in the rough

Israeli students wearing face masks return to school in Tel Aviv on December 6, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Israeli students wearing face masks return to school in Tel Aviv on December 6, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

1. Hit the books: Israel appears to be pulling in two directions at once across several theaters of proverbial battle Sunday morning, though the tug of war seem most pronounced in the health arena, as a drive to open schools and more runs into warnings of high morbidity.

  • The opening of middle schools (grades 7-9 in Israel), the last pieces of the education apparatus to remain on distance-learning footing, is met with an outpouring of relief, especially from parents happy to get kids out of the house, and students and teachers fed up with Zoom instruction, which will now take place only a few days a week.
  • “I’m very happy that my son is returning after he nearly lost his sanity over the last time period,” Arik Kaplan, a parent member of the national PTA board, tells Ynet.
  • “It’s fun to go back to school. It’s a feeling of a weight being lifted. We haven’t seen our friends for a long time. We missed it,” one student tells Kan.
  • “We’re all very excited. One of the teachers told me that she’s pumped up more than on September 1. We’re planning for a big celebration,” one administrator tells Walla news.
  • Channel 12 news drops all pretense of impartiality, writing in its news (not opinion) report that opening schools “is a praiseworthy step. The nation is putting education before all. Except the Health Ministry’s rules allow returning kids for a day or at most two, and the rest is Zoom.” (In fact it’s 2-3 days in person, and the rest via distance learning).
  • It’s worth noting that with the media all basically sticking to the same formula for reporting on school openings, one voice (of many) missing from the conversation is that of those who are not jumping for joy at the return of in-person learning, for health reasons or otherwise. What is a debate in the US is a given for the media in Israel.

2. Middle school syndrome: There is still plenty of criticism of the return to school, though most of it revolves around issues of implementation, timing and the fact that they aren’t being sent back enough.

  • Walla’s headline notes the semi-absurdity of the fact that they are returning to school, but within a week will be back home for Hanukkah vacation, which it says is due to the lack of a budget, meaning that there’s no money to pay teachers for extra time “despite the gaps in instruction that have built up over the Zoom period.”
  • The site also describes issues faced by administrators in getting the schools up and running again, with homeroom teachers confined to capsules with their students. One Tel Aviv principal explains that it means that if the school only has one teacher for a specific subject, only kids within that teacher’s capsule can learn that subject.
  • “With us, 7th and 8th grades won’t learn Bible, not even from a distance, because the Bible teacher is also a homeroom teacher and she wants to come back full time,” she says, noting that she’s been printing out lots of busy work that the students don’t actually need to learn.
  • She also notes that the capsules are kind of a moot point, since kids are still busing together, with no regard at all for the capsules.
  • Kaplan, the PTA parent, tells Ynet that the kids should be going back full time. Another parent meanwhile complains to the site that going back to school does not mean there’s much in the way of schooling.
  • “The kids will learn two days a week and we prioritize what’s more important for them,” an Ashkelon principal tells the site. “Middle schoolers will spend more time on gym, art and getting to know their teachers. There are kids in 7th grade who still haven’t spoken face to face with their teachers. The high schoolers will focus more on core subjects and getting ready for matriculation exams.”
  • There are also plenty of complaints about the fact that students are only returning for part of the week to maintain the capsule system, including from a principal in Holon, who claims that students will only be given six hours of instruction a week in person.
  • “Don’t go to the media and claim 420,000 teachers are getting back to the blackboards when in actuality they can’t return because there are two capsules for students and four per teacher. This is totally impossible, just out of touch,” he says aiming fire at Education Minister Yoav Gallant.
  • The channel also interviews that principal’s son, who shows off his math skills by making his dad’s six hours equal even less: “Two-three hours a week is not something you can continue to learn from or live with.”

3. Just say yes: Health Minister Gallant tells Ynet that even if another lockdown is implemented, schools will not shut down, since there’s low morbidity in the education system and teachers should be vaccinated first. “I’ll take the first vaccine. A personal example,” he says.

  • Get in line bud. Israel Hayom’s lead story reports that those 60 and up will be the first to be vaccinated, basing it on a quote from a member of the committee making recommendations on the matter.
  • “The main prioritized group will be those above a certain age which has still not been determined,” Dr. Tal Brosh tells the paper. “It won’t be 80, because we’ll have a significantly larger amount than the group to be able to expand it to 79, 65 or 60, and to doctors and medical staff, as well as younger people with preexisting conditions.”
  • Haaretz reports on plans being drawn up by the health maintenance organizations, which will be tasked with actually distributing the vaccines. “We’re preparing an orderly plan,” says Clalit head Ehud Davidson. “We plan on giving 40,000 vaccinations a day, including weekends, doing it as quickly as possible.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth says Israel is within “touching distance” of a “doomsday weapon against the virus.”
  • But health reporter Sarit Rosenblum warns in a column for the paper that “despite the optimism, Israel is still far from mass vaccination,” flagging a laundry list of outstanding issues, from the reliability of the refrigerated distribution chain to the drug itself.
  • “For now, the three leading vaccines … have not been proven, opening the possibility that even those vaccinated can get infected and infect others,” she writes.
  • Channel 12 speaks to an Israeli doctor in Yorkshire, UK, who it claims falsely will be the first Israeli to be vaccinated. “On the one hand there are fears, but despite the fears we need to rely on the data, the researchers and the scientists to get vaccinated.”

4. Dearth mall: Meanwhile, there seems to be a drive to open more things up, with malls first on the agenda.

  • “We need to open all the malls in order to prevent crowding. I assume this will be the stance of all Blue and White ministers,” Science Minister Izhar Shay tells Army Radio.
  • But Israel Hayom reports that Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says his staff recommends shutting down the pilot program that allowed some malls to open, and making sure the rest stay closed.
  • Army Radio reports that at a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet on Sunday, the Health Ministry will present a reproduction rate of 1.3-1.5 as the level at which openings stop. The last official report set the rate at 1.2.
  • “We’re at the start of a renewed outbreak of the virus, and the numbers show it,” Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch tells the station.
  • Some are taking matters into their own hands. Channel 13 news reports that IKEA in Rishon Lezion announced that it would open despite being told to stay shut, getting an NIS 5,000 fine for its trouble.
  • According to Kan news, city inspectors threatened to keep coming back every hour and a half and issue the fines unless it shuts down.
  • Channel 12 reports that customers, who rushed to get all their essential flat-pack needs once it opened, cleared out once police came in like gangbusters and threatened to fine anyone who stuck around.
  • “We came to buy a mirror,” one couple tells Walla. “We thought they had a permit. It doesn’t seem to me that someone who would do something illegal in Israel. Seems I was mistaken.”
  • Kan’s Yaron Dekel bemoans the fact that with elections looming, all health decisions will now be made with electoral politics as a main factor: “Political strategy is in — health policy is out, if it was ever not. Our government is on break and the decision-makers will be less rational … and we are held hostage.”

5. Bogey’s mulligan: With election fever ramping up, Yedioth speaks to the next general being boosted by the anti-Netanyahu camp, former IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot.

  • Eisenkot tells the newspaper that despite Moshe Ya’alon claiming that he’ll be No. 2 in his Telem party, he’s not quite there yet.
  • “There are many parties turning to me and I’m in talks with all of them,” he says. “Nothing has been decided. The decision of whether to enter political life and who to run with — will be only made once a date for elections is set.”
  • “More leaders than parties,” mocks a headline in Israel Hayom
  • On Sunday morning, Ya’alon doesn’t just walk back his claim on Eisenkot but also his possible plans to break away from his alliance with Yesh Atid, telling 103FM that “we haven’t made decisions. Not I, not Eisenkot, not [Yair] Lapid. We’re discussing it with the main goal being a change in the regime.”
  • Channel 12’s Amit Segal, noting that Ya’alon is far from being a popular politician, and thus not exactly Eisenkot’s dream No. 1, writes that he’s jumping out of a plane “but it’s not clear if he has a parachute.”
  • He adds that Ya’alon should not expect Lapid to be waiting on the ground to catch him. “It’s not clear that Lapid will forgive this betrayal. Rather than fighting Netanyahu, he’s forced to constantly deal with an internal opposition that questions his leadership abilities.”
  • ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur asks whether all this dumping of the old and picking up new faces to make runs against Netanyahu is helping the center-left.
  • “Centrist and leftist voters abandon their leaders seemingly at the first sign of weakness or compromise, replacing them nearly every election cycle,” he writes, noting the 11 leaders the Labor Party has had in the time that Likud has had two since 1995.
  • “The center-left can cling indefinitely to its culture of frustrated but ever-hopeful purity. Whether [Benny] Gantz was right or wrong in entering into a unity agreement with Netanyahu is beside the point here. Gantz’s time has passed. But his successor won’t do any better if his electorate can permit only one outcome, and will once again begin its search for a successor at the first sign of trouble — or even at outright betrayal. Politics is sometimes the art of swallowing disagreeable conditions and living to fight another day, an art wholly lost on the center-left electorate,” he adds.
  • With the left in supposed disarray, Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld writes, without mentioning the name Yamina, that “the polls point to Israel being on the brink of the unprecedented situation in which the main party claiming the throne comes from the same bloc as the one in power.”
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