The hurt lockdown: 5 things to know for July 13
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The hurt lockdown: 5 things to know for July 13

A curfew-fuffle looms in the distance, though the government can’t even agree on closing pools; and a should-be popular protest hits landmines even as the nation’s woes multiply

A man hangs a 'for rent' sign on a store in Jerusalem on July 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A man hangs a 'for rent' sign on a store in Jerusalem on July 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

1. Lockdowner Debbies: Talk of a lockdown is once again front and center as active coronavirus cases surpass recoveries for the first time in months.

  • Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz tells the Ynet news site that he is calling for an immediate 10-day “breathing lockdown,” which would still allow people to go to work. “Better to treat this immediately with a bang and we’ll finish off this situation,” he says.
  • In Haaretz, Amos Harel writes that the effect of the few measures put in place thus far, shutting down gatherings, event halls and some classes, will only become clear over the weekend, at which point the government will quickly decide whether to move forward with harsher measures.
  • “The time it takes for the number of cases to double now stands at nine to 10 days. If the rate of seriously ill patients remains low but stable (about 2.5 percent of all identified cases), Israeli hospitals are liable to be burdened to the limit of their capacity within a month. As a consequence, treatment of some seriously ill patients will be compromised and the death rate will rise, as happened in northern Italy, London and New York this spring,” he writes.
  • Israel Hayom reports on a group of Hebrew University researchers who came to much the same conclusion: “There are signs of a stabilization in the morbidity rate, but not at a sufficient pace. Given the current doubling rate, by the start of the week of July 19, a decision will need to be made on upping preventative measures, in order to halt the descent that can lead to the health system failing to be able to keep up — from broad regional closures to a full lockdown,” they are quoted writing.
  • Public health expert Dr. Hagai Levine tells Army Radio that “getting to a lockdown will be an admission of the total failure of the government.”
  • Kan reports that a fight is brewing over whether the Knesset’s coronavirus committee will second-guess the government’s decision to shut down pools and gyms and allow them to reopen, with the prime minister threatening to remove MK Yifat Shasha-Biton from chairing the panel if she does so.
  • Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch says to the station that “I’m telling members of the coronavirus committee, if we end up in a lockdown in two weeks, the responsibility will be on those who are not allowing us to halt gatherings.”
  • He also says he is pushing for hotel pools to be closed as well, which were allowed to stay open despite the last closures, telling the station that “there is a very powerful pool lobby.”

2. Nothing to sneeze at: Ronen Tzur, a former adviser to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, tells Army Radio that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is liable to lean toward a lockdown in order to silence protests against the government and against him. “It would be convenient for him to silence the waves of protest and be in supreme control by imposing a lockdown … Any time he feels threatened, he oversees some event — security-related or health.”

  • This comes after the head of the Health Ministry, Chezy Levy, warned the same station Sunday that a large gathering Saturday could lead to more infections.
  • “Even while understanding the pain and concern of the protesters — it is a dangerous gathering that I fear will see results in the coming days in the number of people infected,” he says.
  • Israel Hayom blasts Kisch’s earlier statement that the gathering was a “health mega terror attack” as a headline atop its coverage of the protest and its aftermath.
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, columnist Sever Plotzker writes that no country in the world with infection rates like Israel would have allowed such a protest to go forward. “According to expert opinions, it’s likely that hundreds of coronavirus carriers attended, most of them pre-symptomatic. When the numbers of new infections jump to thousands a day and the government declares a full lockdown, [the protest] will blame everyone. But not itself. Like always,” he writes.
  • The only problem is that Plotzker, a highly respected economics expert, appears to vastly overestimate the numbers. There are currently about 19,000 active confirmed cases, or one in every 470 Israelis. Even if the true number is double that, it would be about one in every 260 Israelis. Given a crowd size of 10,000, it would mean statistically there may have been around 43 coronavirus carriers, not hundreds.

3. Did a self-employed protest self-implode? Even without the health concerns, there are still questions floating around about the Saturday night protest.

  • In Zman Yisrael, Eran Hildesheim looks at Abir Kara, leader of the “I’m a Shulman (sucker)” protest, who led the Saturday night rally, accusing him of committing “every mistake possible” in his campaign, though his defenders say he is just trying to push for what’s best for the little man.
  • Hildesheim specifically targets Kara’s shifting messaging that appears to veer between laissez-faire capitalism and increased handouts for those unable to make ends meet. “He tries to present himself as Che Guevera the socialist when it comes to the self-employed, and in the same breath breaks to the right as he turns into a clone of [libertarian] Moshe Feiglin when it comes to the public sector and the Histadrut [labor federation]. As if these are the burning issues at a time when the self-employed can’t put food on the table,” he writes.
  • Hildesheim adds that on top of the mixed messaging is a closeness with Finance Minister Israel Katz, leading to speculation that he is actually a government plant. “Even if he is a big-hearted man with a heart of gold, he has been found to be a lacking leader, who is rolling the Shulmans into unnecessary struggles, causing them chronic damage, and leading them into a dead end.”
  • (According to Wikipedia, the Shulman moniker comes from old timey gangster Mordechai Shulman, who would always leave a certain Jaffa cafe without paying. When other ne’er-do-wells tried to pull the same stunt, the owner asked who would pay and they would answer “Shulman will get it.” Even though Shulman was actually the original dine-and-dasher, his name has turned into shorthand for someone left to settle the tab for everyone else.)
  • Israel Hayom’s Emily Amrousi writes that the protesters aren’t government plants, but pawns of the left. “Are these useful idiots used by leftist groups? Yes. Are these useful idiots correct? Yes. So why have they turned a protest that everyone agrees on into a leftist rally? The whole nation is with you, dimwits. The thirsting self-employed are among the righty right-wing rightists and the lefty left-wing leftists; the despairing unemployed and collapsing business owners are split down the middle between supporters of Netanyahu and his rivals.”
  • Well, not everyone supports them. Walla quotes Likud MK Anat Marek claiming in a Knesset committee discussion that “I didn’t see any self-employed there, I just saw leftists and radical leftists who came to say just one thing ‘Not Bibi.”
  • That’s something of a generalization that Marek may regret, but in Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer predicts that the protests can quickly snowball into the end of Netanyahu’s rule (stop me if you’ve heard it’s the beginning of the end for Netanyahu before), but only if they expand significantly beyond the ol’ Anyone but Bibi crowd.
  • “If the protests continue with just them, Netanyahu is safe. They’re the same people who came out in 2011. But if protests spread to Netanyahu’s base, this could be a pivotal moment,” he writes. “Netanyahu has lost control, not just of the pandemic, but of the agenda as well. If the protests continue to spread, it could be the unexpected factor that brings about the end of his long rule.”

4. Cough it up: The protests and annoyance with the government are likely to continue regardless, especially with news breaking Monday morning that some self-employed workers promised government help are seeing only a fraction of what they thought they were promised.

  • Some 116,000 self-employed will get a “pittance” of NIS 3,000 or less, while 136,000 will get between NIS 3,000 and NIS 7,000 and another 128,000 will get the full amount of NIS 7,500, Channel 12 news reports.
  • Yaron Gindi, the head of the tax advisors association, tells Walla news that the amounts that self-employed are receiving are based on reported revenues from 2018, but that he is pushing for the government to also take 2019 into account for businesses that may have had a bad year in 2018.
  • Meanwhile, a poll published by Channel 13 news shows that 61 percent of respondents are unhappy about Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis, compared to 34 percent somewhat satisfied or satisfied. In April, according to the channel, only around 30 percent were dissatisfied.
  • A separate poll by Kan finds that 85 percent of the public is dissatisfied with the government’s handling of the crisis from an economic point of view.
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial takes aim at money Netanyahu received from wealthy benefactors for his legal defense arguing, “At a time when a million unemployed people, self-employed people and owners of collapsing businesses have been waiting months for economic assistance, while the prime minister blames ‘the bureaucracy’ for the delayed payments, the state continues to spend its time on the financial needs of Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife.”

5. Nurse ratchet up the threats: If things didn’t look bad enough, Yedioth Ahronoth reports that hospital nurses are threatening to strike, yes strike, if they don’t get some backup in their over-extended wards.

  • “The reopening of coronavirus wards with the second wave, along with treating suspected cases in emergency units and many nurses being forced into quarantine, have seriously worsened the human resources shortage that nurses were dealing with even half a year before the outbreak of the crisis,” the paper reports.
  • “The nurses are collapsing, they can’t anymore. The system will strike. Period. I don’t do empty threats,” says Ilana Cohen, head of the nurses union.
  • ToI’s Nathan Jeffay reports that stocks of antiviral remdesivir, which has been shown to help many serious COVID-19 cases, are in short supply, and one patient was even cut off in the middle of treatment.
  • “We have a patient in serious condition who is ventilated and he received one course for a few days. When Rambam asked for a second course for him we were told [there is] no more remdesivir in Israel,” a hospital spokesman is quoted saying.
  • There is some good news, though. Channel 13 writes about a new initiative in which ultra-Orthodox community members who have recovered from the virus, and thus are chock full of antibodies, are volunteering to enter hospital wards under isolation, to offer whatever assistance they can or even just help minimize the loneliness among the quarantined masses.
  • “There are people in serious condition who can’t even get out of bed themselves, and I simply stand with them and speak to them, hear what is hard for them,” one volunteer tells the station. “That already helps people a lot, that someone hears them. The nurses are busy and don’t have time for this.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified MK Yifat Shasha-Biton. We apologize for the error.

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