The Lockdown Monster: 7 things to know for March 25
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The Lockdown Monster: 7 things to know for March 25

Stricter regulations rise like a fog-covered beast out of the murk of a government meeting, while the erstwhile Knesset speaker leaves the future of Israel more shrouded than ever

Jerusalem Municipality workers close the entrances to the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on March 24, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jerusalem Municipality workers close the entrances to the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on March 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Stay close to home, probably: As of this writing, late Wednesday morning, Israelis know the government made a decision about coronavirus restrictions on movement, but nobody knows quite for sure what they are.

  • That doesn’t mean there are not plenty of reports — unsourced, naturally — claiming to lay out exactly what the restrictions entail.
  • According to Ynet, there will be no general lockdown, but people will only be allowed to venture 100 meters out of their homes except for essential needs. Synagogues, clothing stores and computer stores will be shut down, restaurants will be allowed to continue delivering food, but not takeout, and ritual baths will only be open for women, not men. Public transportation will not be shut down totally, but will be scaled back considerably.
  • Haaretz reports that food runs to supermarkets will only be allowed once a day, and only one designated family member will be allowed to fetch the food.
  • Channel 13, which has many of the same details as the other outlets, reports on an earlier draft of emergency restrictions which included a total shutdown of public transportation except in certain cases, and a rule only allowing one person in a car unless it is with somebody they live with. Taxi rides would only be allowed with one person plus the driver.

2. Double secret new rules: With the new rules set to go into effect at 5 p.m. and enforcement set to begin at 10 p.m., people are a bit confused and anxious over the lack of information.

  • “Can someone from the government, who knows Hebrew, grab a camera already and explain what was decided at night and what’s going to happen in the morning,” tweets Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson.
  • That concern is echoed by Ofer Shelah, who is quoted by Walla saying at the start of a meeting of a subcommittee he heads on dealing with the coronavirus crisis that “the public is without a large amount of information. It does not understand what is happening and why it is happening.”
  • Kan reports that all the Health Ministry would offer at the end of the meeting is that “the meeting lasted several hours, and included as always, dozens of suggestions, hundreds of different considerations and thousands of various statements. We cannot get into the details of the discussions.”

3. Taking the lock out of lockdown: In the meantime, plenty of reports are also dripping out about what went on behind closed doors in the “stormy” meeting, in Channel 12’s words.

  • According to the channel, many ministers requested various easings of the proposed restrictions, including Culture Minister Miri Regev who asked that people be allowed to go half a kilometer from their homes for exercise.
    “Netanyahu opposed the suggestions out of hand and told the ministers they are not comprehending the situation,” the channel reports.
  • According to Army Radio’s Lihi Shahar, Regev also complained about the fact that health professionals are being asked to explain things to the public, and was apparently especially incensed by deputy Health Ministry head Itamar Grotto saying people would need Meals Ready to Eat if there is a full lockdown. “The information to the public should come from professional spokespeople and not doctors. The public is at home out of work, people are starting to smoke and drink. This is a very bad situation.”
  • Channel 13’s Barak Ravid reports that Minister Yuval Steinitz came up against opposition when he tried to suggest that people only be allowed to go shopping once or twice a week. Ravid says the suggestion came after Minister Aryeh Deri said that “people are going to the corner store ten times a day like a ritual.” When Steinitz suggested that people just get what they need and be done with it Minister Gila Gamliel shot back: “Maybe that works in the Steinitz household, but many families can’t just do one big shop.”
  • Several outlets report — again, with no sourcing — that Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who is ultra-Orthodox, tried to exclude synagogues from the restrictions, but was shot down by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • “The only reason they don’t give a clear answer to shut down the synagogues is because they are afraid of the Haredi community,” says Rabbi David Stav, the chairman of Tzohar, an organization that provides an Orthodox alternative to the rabbinate.
  • Stav tells ToI’s Sam Sokol that the Rabbinate’s response to the crisis, a day of public prayer, may not be what the doctor, or even many rabbis, ordered:
  • “Everybody in the government knows it’s impossible to follow the orders of Health Ministry in synagogues,” He adds that directing people to congregate in synagogues puts “tens of thousands of Jews at risk,” he adds.

4. Go straight to home, do not pass Go: Israel Hayom, a paper often used as Netanyahu’s mouthpiece, pushes his message that people need to stop going out with a massive three-word headline on its front page: “Don’t leave home.”

  • “The neighborhood corner store is without a doubt the most dangerous place in Israel. The worst thing about going to the store is realization on your way home that you forgot something: how can you go back into that battlefield for mayonnaise?” actor Guy Meroz writes in the paper.
  • He adds that he saw three people running together, but when he asked why they were contravening rules only allowing two people, they claimed they didn’t know the third guy: “We need to work on our excuses.”
  • A video of “Corona City” aka Tel Aviv shows the once bustling metropolois almost completely devoid of people, with melancholy music and the message that “we are all in this together.” Unfortunately, the collection of cherry-picked shots of empty streets does not exactly reflect reality across Israel, hence the need for the strict new restrictions and enforcement measures.

Corona City . March 2020

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Nadav Zofi‎‏ ב- יום ראשון, 22 במרץ 2020

 

  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that people in Tel Aviv have started to get the message and there were only a few people at the marina. But in Jerusalem “public parks were still filled with people.”
  • “There’s no more time for games,” writes the paper’s Sarit Rosenblum (who to her credit was raising alarm bells back when other Israeli journalists were campaigning to bring infected people home off the Diamond Princess cruise).
  • “Even the new restrictions, which will be slightly harsher here and there, are not delivering the goods. A moment before disaster, people aren’t worried about if they can go 50 or 100 meters outside their homes. All the experts have been saying for days that there needs to be a full lockdown, without retreats or exclusions. Only a cordon like this, locking everyone in their homes for a period of time, will stop the spread of the disease.”
  • The Kan public broadcaster airs video of police stopping people who are in groups or breaking quarantine and threatening action against them.
  • “Go straight home, don’t stop at the garage or anywhere. If you are caught driving while you are supposed to be in quarantine, you’ll be fined 5,000 shekels and a criminal investigation will be opened,” one cop is heard telling a driver.

5. Life and death with the disease: While ministers were bickering and withholding vital information, Israel’s death toll was skyrocketing, as four people succumbed to the disease in a single day. Emerging are heartbreaking stories of people sick or dying in isolation, or children not able to bid their parents goodbye.

  • “With the new coronavirus regulations likely to stop me from leaving home, it dawned on me last night that I may not see him, kiss him or touch him again before he dies,” one woman whose father, 76, has lung disease, tells ToI’s Sue Surkes.
  • A nurse at Shaare Zedek’s isolation ward tells ToI’s Marissa Newman of Aryeh Even’s rapid decline on Friday night before he became the country’s first victim. As his breathing became labored other COVID-19 patients, the only ones who could be near him without protective suits, surrounded him until a doctor could rush in: “They put their hands on him, they said [the] shema [prayer], they said goodbye to him,” she said. “They said, ‘Aryeh, we’re with you, we love you,’ they really comforted him.”
  • There are also brighter tales being told, like that of the Modiin neighborhood of Kaizer, which has found a new sense of community amid a large local outbreak.
  • “If you are going to be locked up, then you want to be locked up in a community that will try to support each other and be helpful,” one person says. “I definitely feel that here.”
  • But Channel 13 reports that at another hotspot, Jerusalem’s Nofim assisted living facility, health authorities have refused to evacuate two more patients who diagnosed as positive. “Help us, soon we’ll all be infected,” one resident says.

6. Sodomizing democracy: And what fun would just one crisis be? Luckily Israel’s Knesset has another kind of crisis, with Likud seemingly doing what it can to hold on to power.

  • Rather than comply with a court order demanding a vote for his position, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein resigns, locking up the Knesset until next week and essentially blocking any legislation from moving forward.
  • The move is met with derision by much of the anti-Netanyahu crowd and many members of the press do little to hide their opposition to the maneuver.
  • “Showing contempt for the court,” reads a headline in Walla news.
  • “Inasanityyyyy!!,” tweets Channel 13 reporter Aviad Glickman. “Needs to be said again and again to be believed. Sodom and Gomorrah are already here.”
  • “Real democracy — acting against the majority and not complying with court orders,” tweets Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer.
  • And Yuval Yaoz, a legal analyst for ToI sister site Zman Yisrael and the head of advocacy group New Contract, goes a step further and files a petition with the High Court to force Edelstein to allow the plenum to be opened and a vote held on his replacement.

7. A way ahead? Haaretz reports, “By resigning, Edelstein achieves two things: First, in the struggle for the independence of the Knesset, he will not allow the judge to determine the Knesset agenda. Second, by resigning he shortens the amount of time that the center-left bloc has to pass legislation barring Netanyahu from serving as prime minister while under indictment before Gantz’s mandate to form a government expires.”

  • Channel 12 news says that Blue and White may either join the court petition, or convene the committee needed to appoint a deputy speaker in the hopes that it can still vote on a new speaker — though according to Yaoz, only the full plenum, which was closed, can do that.
  • And the channel reports that the party is still not giving up on the idea of a 6-month emergency unity government to “see what Netanyahu’s intentions are.”
  • In ToI, Raphael Ahren proposes another idea, a minority government headed by Netanyahu, and supported by Blue and White from the outside, though only on measures to fight the virus: “All it would take to establish Netanyahu’s fifth government would be for Blue and White to leave the hall when the Knesset votes on it,” he writes. “[The] centrist list could assume the role of a responsible opposition, fully supporting the government in its fight against the coronavirus and combating it relentlessly on most everything else.”
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