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Israel media review

The seven-hour itch: What the press is saying on November 16

A long meeting on the virus lockdown exit with no results has everybody fuming and sniping at each other, and that only scratches the surface of the frustration in the air

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the annual Board of Governors' meeting in Jerusalem, October 28, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the annual Board of Governors' meeting in Jerusalem, October 28, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

1. Hasta manana: Israel’s struggles to figure out if or how to exit from its coronavirus lockdown form the locus of the media conversation on Monday morning, with testing levels seemingly trending upwards.

  • A meeting between ministers on Sunday night to plot a path forward after they failed to come together on a plan last week ended frustratingly, with no results other than an agreement to pick up squabbling where they left off on Monday.
  • According to Channel 12 news, the reopening of school was the most contentious issue, specifically grades 5 and 6.
  • “It seems there was a majority of ministers who supported opening schools for those grades and even for 11th and 12th grades as soon as Tuesday, i.e., tomorrow,” reports the station, without a source. “However, that majority ended up leading to the decision by the prime minister not to bring up the subject for a vote and to leave the situation as it is for another day.”
  • While several stations report that a nationwide curfew was taken off the table by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yedioth reports that “it’s possible all stores will close nationwide starting at 7 p.m., including shopping centers that have returned to operations, despite the recommendations of the Health Ministry.”
  • According to the report, Netanyahu’s suggestion that only stores close at 7 p.m. was rejected by Finance Minister Israel Katz, leading to Netanyahu to snipe at him: “I get that you don’t want it. Suggest something else.” Katz’s suggestion: To up enforcement of restaurants, which he is quoted saying have “turned takeout into take in.”
  • Perhaps more ideas to mull will help? Walla speaks to Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science who presented the cabinet with a number of ways to avoid a lockdown, including increased testing and changing the way they do contact tracing, which he says rarely results in flagging those who are sick.
  • “His version would add ‘follow-up probes,’ that is identifying events that took place and checking everyone who was in attendance,” it reports.
  • While the frustrations at the lack of clear policies emerging from the meeting are practically dripping from some reports — which play up the fact that the no-result came following a seven-hour meeting — Israel Hayom takes a softer approach, writing in a headline that the government is “searching for the golden mean.”
  • The paper reports that Interior Minister Aryeh Deri pushed for the country to open up completely since we are headed for a third lockdown anyway, but leaves out his criticism of Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz for their decision to just find a way forward together and bring their solution for approval to the cabinet.

2. No decision knockout: Yedioth’s Itamar Eichner plays up Deri’s comments in a column about the frustrations surrounding the meeting and lack of decisiveness.

  • “A responsible and thought-out discussion, the prime minister called it, but Israeli citizens, who are pining for a decision, a clear path and decisive hands on the wheel, were instead witness to a tedious discussion, a never-ending waterwheel, and not even a bottom line.”
  • Local authorities head Modiin Mayor Haim Bibas addresses the government while speaking to Army Radio: “You didn’t manage to decide yesterday? Meet again once more and open the schools. Can’t? Give us the authority.”
  • Kan’s Shaul Amsterdamski expresses annoyance at ministers claiming to understand the suffering of the citizenry. “The sated will never understand the hungry. When they sit there, they can’t understand what someone who has been looking for work for eight months and has no chance of finding any is going through.”
  • In Haaretz, Sami Peretz expresses befuddlement at the fact that rating agency Standard and Poor’s left Israel’s credit rating untouched despite what is seen as a rudderless leadership: “Somebody has to be misreading the situation. Either the rating agencies don’t fully appreciate Israel’s increasingly problematic politics and where it’s leading the economy, or Israeli commentators and economists are giving too much weight to the chaos.”

3. School’s out… forever? “I sat stunned and saw the government decided not to decide, and the most amazing thing is I’m not surprised,” Miriam Schiff, the head of a national school parents association, tells Army Radio about the non-opening of schools. “They have made our kids into hostages of communities that don’t keep the rules. Perhaps we are being too-good citizens, and nobody is counting us.”

  • Education Minister Yoav Gallant defends the decision to delay the decision on schools, but also tells Kan that school closures had not contributed to a drop in infection rates.
  • “The prime minister, because of the weight of the decision, asked for more time to think things through. Education is an issue of national importance, the closure of the institutions has not even slightly contributed in the last month to reducing morbidity,” Gallant says.
  • Channel 12 news tries to crunch the numbers to figure out if the opening of schools has led to a rise in cases. At least from the figures it cites, it seems the answer is no, with the number of positive cases among kids 6-10 remaining in the low teens all month.
  • At the same time, it quotes a member of the team dealing with school openings saying that testing among those ages is quite low: “Opening schools is of utmost importance, but we have no way of knowing today that it has not led to an increase in cases.”
  • Israel Hayom reports that parents, teachers, kids and more are spitting mad, calling the kids who have not returned to school a “lost generation.”
  • “The coronavirus cabinet has buried the education system, abandoned the children of Israel and continues to drag its feet instead of making responsible decisions,” it quotes a saying.
  • “In every plan or meeting, we are barely mentioned, and nobody has answers for us,” Liel Sarousi, a Hadera ninth-grader, tells the paper. “I don’t go to school to pass the time, I go to school to learn and to be with my friends. I don’t get that from Zoom learning.”

4. A shot in every pot: Army Radio reports that the director general of the Health Ministry has also taken it on the chin for telling ministers that Israel should only expect to have received 200,000 vaccine doses by April, and even then, immunizing people will take a month at least.

  • Netanyahu’s response, according to the station: You were not allowed to tell them that.
  • This comes a day after Haaretz reported that Israel’s deal with Pfizer is not all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, Israel may end up without any vaccines at all, according to the report.
  • On Monday, the paper follows that up with a report that the Health Ministry is seeing a mass exodus of top officials from the Health Ministry, which could make matters even worse: “Sources in the Health Ministry are calling the departure of these key people without the appointment of successors ‘destruction of the professional foundation on which the Health Ministry depends.’ They say that this particular government ministry relies heavily on professionals with unique skills.”
  • And those seven-hour coronavirus cabinet meetings aren’t helping much, a source tells the paper. “Meetings are scheduled in the datebook and evaporate, they’re simply postponed again and again. The coronavirus cabinet takes up the time of the most senior officials, with preparatory meetings and hours on end of meetings in the cabinet itself. Last week, for example, there were four cabinet meetings. … And that’s the tip of the iceberg.”
  • Writing in Israel Hayom, Prof. Orna Brown Epel from the University of Haifa says everyone needs to cool their jets over Pfizer: “Today it’s safe to assume that most vaccines will be developed successfully in the coming year and there’s no reason to get worked up over one company managing to publish results before others. The excitement around one specific vaccine is overblown if you ask me. Soon there will be more vaccines, and comparing them based on scientific evidence that they need to publish will help us make a decision about which to choose.”
  • Indeed, as these words are written, Moderna, which Israel already has a deal with, announces that its vaccine appears to be 95 percent effective.

5. Head from the hills: Joe Biden has barely been US president-elect for a week, but East Jerusalem construction tenders are back in the news just like these are the good ole’ days of 2010, when Israel managed to embarrass him by publishing plans for building in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood while he was visiting. This time it’s not an established neighborhood like Ramat Shlomo, but the development of a mostly barren hill called Givat Hamatos near the city’s border with Bethlehem that has critics in an uproar.

  • Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at the left-wing Jerusalem nonprofit Ir Amim, tells ToI’s Aaron Boxerman that developing the hill will cut the neighborhood of Beit Safafa off from the rest of East Jerusalem, and will sever East Jerusalem from Bethlehem.
  • “The new neighborhood would establish facts on the ground such that if a future Israeli government wishes to reach an accord with the Palestinians, it would be very hard to do in a way that maintains territorial contiguity,” says Tatarsky.
  • ToI’s Raphael Ahren accompanies EU head of Palestine mission Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff and other European envoys to the site. What was planned to be a photo-op/protest media appearance turned into something else completely as right-wing activists heckle Burgsdorff and “chase him away.”
  • Ahren documents the slow-speed chase as the diplomats move from one site to another and then eventually decamp for Talpiot, hitting a parked car along the way.
  • “I personally didn’t feel threatened,” the senior diplomat tells The Times of Israel. “It was unfortunate that we could not have a reasonable dialogue with these people, which is a pity, because I would have liked to engage with them.” Kan also reports on the incident, writing that Burgsdorff was expelled from the hill.
  • Walla notes that also protesting at the site alongside the European envoys was Joint List MK Sami Abu Shehada, who is quoted saying that “occupation in colonialism. Global colonialism is over, only in Israel does it continue to destroy the lives of millions of Palestinians.”
  • Haaretz devotes its lead editorial to taking aim at the Netanyahu government for pushing the construction plans in order to get them going before Biden comes in. “A smart government, one that has the good of its citizens in mind and assumes responsibility for their future, would suspend construction on Givat Hamatos and in other settlements and seek to establish ties with Biden administration officials, so as to facilitate the renewal of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority,” it reads. “But not Netanyahu’s government. Netanyahu is taking a different approach; it would prefer to buy cheaply now, but to pay dearly afterward.”
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