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Israel media review

Third stage? Try a third wave: What the press is saying on November 11

Infection trends herald a third wave and third lockdown to some, while others push to open more and Israel’s vaccine gamble raises questions; at least we have the US figured out

People wearing face masks take cover from the rain on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem, on November 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People wearing face masks take cover from the rain on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem, on November 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Three wave circus: Tuesday saw the Knesset rubber-stamp a normalization treaty with Bahrain, the untimely death of arguably the second most important Palestinian politician, the US continue to be roiled by post-election turmoil, and the announcement of the largest-ever arms deal between the US and a Middle Eastern country not named Saudi Arabia. But the press is focused mainly on the coronavirus at home.

  • Much of the coverage centers around how poorly Israel is apparently doing, even with case numbers a fraction of what they were a month ago.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth leads off its print edition with an interview with former Health Ministry director and one-time public face of the Israeli response Moshe Bar Siman Tov, splashing his quote, “Morbidity is on the rise and we are making the same mistakes as last time,” on the front page.
  • “There are signs pointing to a third wave. We need to think about how we can keep the infection rate under control as much as possible,” he’s also quoted saying.
  • He also predicts that Israelis won’t have access to a vaccine before mid-2021, and says the winter and the flu could give the health system a run for its money.
  • The news outlet’s online website features similar warnings from Health Ministry official Dr. Sharon Elroi-Price, who says that Israelis should not be holding out for more lockdown rollbacks: “The program talks about opening according to morbidity metrics and we are now not at the morbidity numbers that allow the next stage of lifting restrictions. The plan was built with much thought in order to ensure we do not reach a third stage and we need to keep to it.”
  • Channel 13 news reports that ministers are expected to push off approval for entering the third stage of the lockdown opening, given infection rates. It also says that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to bring a proposal for a nationwide curfew, starting at either 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.
  • Going against the grain, Walla reports that “the Health Ministry is against relaxation, but infection rates are dropping,” pointing to figures showing the share of tests coming back positive is continuing to decline. (It’s worth noting that while the trend is indeed there, the numbers it cites differ from those published by the Health Ministry.)
  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes that the 500-700 cases a day Israel is seeing is high, and could get worse in the winter as people spend more time indoors. At the same time, he cautions, the picture is more complex than that one figure.
  • “Even the warnings must be viewed proportionately. At least until Monday, the rate of positive tests was 2 to 2.5 percent. The key question is how high is the hidden infection rate, the one that isn’t measured because some communities (the ultra-Orthodox, Arabs and young people) have developed a tendency to avoid testing. The other mystery is about the goings-on among the Haredim, whose infection rates have been significantly lower than in the general public for the past several weeks. If assessments are correct that about 30 percent of Haredim have already contracted the virus, and at this stage there is no significant reinfection going on, then perhaps there’s a kind of obstacle preventing a renewed spread of the illness in that community.”
  • Army Radio says that the R0, or basic reproductive value for each infection has reached 0.92, well above the 0.8 level that allowed the start of the lockdown exit.
  • Public health expert Hagai Levine tells the station that the people are responsible, but it’s not their fault: “The public aren’t suckers. They understand that they are being worked over and not at the center of decision-making, and so are not abiding by the guidelines. As long as politics remains above all, and the government is out of touch, we’ll be headed to a third lockdown.”

2. Hit the Zoom: Somebody should tell the Education Ministry, which is plowing ahead with plans for more grades to open and for first and second grades to throw out their capsulated classes, according to reports proliferating across the media landscape Wednesday morning.

  • Channel 12 news reports that the plan was drawn up by an inter-parliamentary panel, and was already approved by Netanyahu, treating it as a done deal with only the timing still up in the air.
  • But Kan reports that there are still arguments between the Health Ministry and Education Ministry as to how middle school grades will operate.
  • The station quotes the same Hagai Levine pushing for classes to open for all post-haste. “As an epidemiologist, I say that you can’t leave the school system shut. I’m embarrassed by the Education Ministry’s response, not to plan or find solutions for each child. Our kids are turning into Zoom-bies, and inequality between groups is growing.”
  • Israel Hayom features snapshots of people “left behind” by the virus, including students, natch. “They aren’t thinking creatively enough,” a 10th grader tells the station. “I get there’s coronavirus, but we need to deal with it and need to try to maintain normalcy. They need to think of more ways to teach the material in a way that students will truly understand, and not just Zoom classes. There are a ton of students, me among them, afraid that the situation will affect our chances for getting into higher education in the future.”

3. Just shoot us: The Kan broadcaster, which reported earlier that Israel had not taken negotiations with Pfizer seriously, now reports that Pfizer told an Israeli delegation that it was too late to the party and should not count on being sold any vaccine doses.

  • But good news. The station says that thanks to Israeli pressure, the CEO has agreed to speak with Netanyahu.
  • “A health system source assessed that after talks between the two, the chances will grow that there will be a deal between the firm and the Israeli government,” it reports.
  • While the Health Ministry denied screwing up, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch tells Kan that “it could be that we needed to make a decision earlier.”
  • Army Radio reports sources in the National Security Council are warning ministers that even if there is a vaccine, they should be wary of the public using it to slacken adherence to virus health guidelines.
  • Haaretz’s Meirav Arlozorov notes that Israel’s situation with the companies it already signed deals with is better, but there are still issues there, like the fact that Israel only signed deals with two smaller firms, and that they are using a new, unproven method for developing the vaccine.
  • “It’s exciting to be at the forefront of technology, but given the level of risk, Israel probably would be better off if it were to sign contracts with companies using a better-known method, and to balance its risk by signing with companies using a range of technologies. This hasn’t happened.”
  • She also notes that the deals are only to provide 1 million doses each, a piddly amount compared to what is needed, and in the deal with Moderna, it will lose the hundreds of millions it plopped down even if no vaccine ever comes out of it.
  • “Beyond that, Israel will need to decide who gets the vaccine first, and stick with it. The whole thing is a massive project, and the United States has drafted the military and the shipping companies to make it happen. It not likely that Israel will be equally ready.”
  • In Israel Hayom, Prof. Arnon Afek surmises that Israel could skip the line by offering to produce the vaccines for Pfizer, crediting the government with having had the foresight to order a factory for producing vaccines built. But he also seems to pooh-pooh his own suggestion.
  • “It safe to assume that at this stage of the virus, we won’t manage to build a vaccine factory or buy vaccines for the whole population in the next year,” he writes. “But a mix of various activities in the open air and responsible behavior from each of us could allow us to get through the tunnel and into the expected light.”

4. Mourning Saeb: The death of Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat gets fairly wide coverage in Israel, with reporters given the tough task of describing a man who was committed to peace but had some serious warts attached to his name.

  • “He was an outspoken and passionate advocate of Palestinian statehood, with many Israeli officials who sat across from him at the negotiating table vouching for his commitment to a two-state solution,” writes ToI’s Aaron Boxerman. “But Erekat was also a controversial figure. For some Israelis, his uncompromising rhetoric was emblematic of Palestinian rejectionism. … For frustrated Palestinians, Erekat was part of an aging, unchanging leadership that had failed to deliver on its central promise — a state — even as it continued to coordinate with Israel.”
  • Not everybody is so evenhanded, though many are. While Erekat’s death was accompanied by an outpouring of grief and remembrances from diplomats and those in the peace camp, those on the right wing decide to use the opportunity to kick him while he was down.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not commenting, but his son Yair tweets a laugh-crying emoji alongside a cartoon of “leftists” mourning Erekat.
  • Kan’s Keren Neubach shares what she says is a series of tweets in which people wished for her death “due to the fact that I and [reporter] Gal Berger reported on the death of Saeb Erekat.”
  • Israel Hayom’s Nadav Shragai writes that Erekat’s death is “a huge blow for Israeli hasbara (pro-Israel advocacy).”
  • “Erekat was a real enemy who did not hide behind masks and did not mince his words. He openly stated what other Palestinian leaders had shied from,” he claims.
  • To its credit, the paper also runs a counterpoint from former peace negotiator Yossi Beilin, who calls him “a symbol of patriotic Palestinians who believe that peace and coordination with Israel are an important part of the realization of their national interest in their self-determination and well-being.”
  • “He had very clear principles, and he adhered to the idea of a Palestinian state, but he always knew to leave room for a diplomatic compromise,” he writes.
  • Similarly in Haaretz, a gaggle of former US envoys and negotiators write that “we had our differences because at times he could be inflexible. But then, without an independent base of his own and subject to [Yasser] Arafat’s whims, Saeb had little flexibility to depart from core Palestinian positions, and we often suspected, his bosses did not want him to do so.”
  • “The other reality is that no other Palestinian negotiator was as committed and indefatigable as Saeb in pursuit of a two state solution to be achieved through peaceful means,” they add.
  • In Walla, Gadi Hitman, a professor at Ariel University in the West Bank, writes that Erekat’s death is bad news for anyone wanting to see a two-state solution become a reality, though trends on the ground seemed to pushing that away anyway: “So the chances for Erekat’s diplomatic vision and the solution he believed would occur are now just a theoretical scenario. Erekat’s death is the death of a dream he never merited to see.”

5. Transition mission: The US elections and how Israel is navigating between Trump and Biden, and how Biden will navigate between Israel and whoever else, also continues to occupy the media.

  • On Tuesday, Netanyahu got up in the Knesset and flogged anyone [mostly opposition head Yair Lapid] who would harbor the very idea that he had sold Israel’s interests to US President Donald Trump. But not everybody buys it.
  • Former prime minister Ehud Barak tells Army Radio that “the time has come to stop believing what Netanyahu says. He has acted serially for years to interfere in US politics.”
  • ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur writes that thanks to America swerving back and forth in the Middle East over the past decade, Biden is “free” of any expectations.
  • “America is a powerful friend to have in one’s corner, as both Obama and Trump showed. No one questions American power. But few today are willing to risk relying on America’s attention span and policy coherence across administrations,” he writes.
  • “The best thing going for the new president-elect, then, is the fact that no one will depend on him. The assumption of American unreliability is now baked into regional calculations. And that limits the amount of damage he — or any US president in the coming years — can do.”
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes that Biden’s people can get creative and find ways to “punish” Netanyahu, without necessarily hurting Israel or bilateral ties: “There will be more than enough people in the new administration who have an understanding of Israeli politics, and the value Netanyahu attaches to his image as Israel’s number one expert on the United States and the only person who knows how to navigate its corridors of power. It will be easy to undermine him just on this – starting with Netanyahu’s place on the list of global leaders calling Biden to congratulate him personally once he’s in office. After that, making it clear that due to the coronavirus, the president will be meeting in person with only a select number of world leaders, effectively denying Netanyahu an excuse to come to Washington in 2021,” he writes.
  • “At the same time, there will be ample opportunity for the new administration to demonstrate that it has no problem with Israel, just with Netanyahu, by having the new defense secretary and secretary of state invite their Israeli counterparts to Washington early on. That these just happen to be two of Netanyahu’s internal coalition rivals, Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, will be lost on no one. And once they’re in Washington, a meeting at the White House with the national security adviser will of course be called for, and no one should be surprised if the president just happens to walk in while they’re there,” he adds.
  • Mordechai Kedar writes in Israel Hayom that Netanyahu should use Trump’s remaining time to link up with regional partners plus Saudi Arabia (but not Jordan) to approach the outgoing administration together against Iran (and maybe for annexation).
  • “That bloc would present a united front on these issues: that the United States not bow before Iran regarding the nuclear file, not lift sanctions on Iran and not allow Tehran to interfere in the affairs of other countries. This coalition may or may not eventually give Israel tacit approval to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, but Jerusalem should not proceed with any such plan without prior coordination with these countries. Indeed, coordination with Israel’s new friends in the Arab and Muslim world is more important than coordination with the incoming Biden administration, vital though that is,” he says.
  • Meanwhile, Channel 12 looks at the pressing issue of the fate of Ramat Trump, the rump town supposedly going up in the Golan Heights. According to the channel, it’s not going anywhere, with over NIS 10 million already invested in infrastructure and 309 families applying to homestead there. “We are unequivocally looking for people who are insane and pioneering, who have nothing to lose,” says a local official helping coordinate the town’s creation. “Families who come here need to understand that there’s not great access and services are limited for now, but their quality of life will definitely go up.”
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