Israel media review

This is a fine mess: What the press is saying about lockdowns, Haredim and Trump

Israel seems set to extend its lockdown by a week or more, but even with that, predictions of coming COVID-doom run as wild as infections in unpoliced ultra-Orthodox towns

People walk in downtown Jerusalem on January 17, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People walk in downtown Jerusalem on January 17, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Lockdown and not out: Israeli officials appear set to extend a nationwide lockdown by a week, or maybe two, beyond its current January 21 expiration date.

  • Visiting a vaccination center on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the extension as “short,” but would only say it won’t be more than two weeks.
  • Channel 13 reports that Netanyahu supports extending the lockdown by at least 10 days, covering two weekends.
  • “The lockdown will be extended, the question is by how long,” reads a top headline in Israel Hayom.
  • The paper reports that Netanyahu and the Health Ministry want a two-week lockdown, but with Blue and White opposed, are managing expectations.
  • “Health Minister Yuli Edelstein is expected to propose a two-week lockdown. However, the estimation is that his request will be turned down and the lockdown will be extended by a week or 10 days.
  • Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash tells Army Radio that the extension is necessary given the high infection rate, with over 10,000 people infected a day earlier — a record.
  • “We need to bring down the number of seriously ill, and that’s where our recommendation comes from to extend the lockdown by another two weeks,” he says. “I understand what it means to the public, but we can’t keep on with this high rate of infection.”

2. It’s going to get worse: Channel 12 news reports that ministers will be presented with a new pessimistic model predicting that the highly infectious British variant could spark a massive wave of infections well into April, should Israel exit the lockdown by the end of the month.

  • Unnamed officials tell the channel that Netanyahu’s recent comments to the effect that the pandemic is largely beaten were “premature” and “irresponsible.”
  • “It’s not a wave, it’s a tsunami and it’s overtaking us,” read the front page headline in Yedioth Ahronoth on Monday, describing a looming health care crisis as wards struggle to keep up.
  • The paper reports that at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital, a 47-year-old man died on Friday when his ventilator accidentally unhooked, without the overworked medical staff noticing.
  • “We’ve been warning for several months, and there’s no doubt that every hospital is struggling to maintain quality care,” Rambam Medical Center head Michael Halbertal tells the paper. “What happened at Ichilov will not be out of the ordinary.”
  • Haaretz reports that Israel is well on its way to hitting 1,000 deaths for January, with over 600 recorded in the first 18 days of the month alone. That’s up from an average of 400 a month throughout the pandemic.
  • “The data coming out of the country’s hospitals shows little sign of a slowdown in the rate at which people are dying from the virus. Fully 1,130 of the 1,930 coronavirus patients in the hospital are currently in serious condition and 317 of them are in critical condition,” it reports.

3. Heaven help us: Attention is focusing on the high rate of infection in the ultra-Orthodox world and lack of enforcement by police there.

  • Kan reports that in Bnei Brak, police have only handed out 2.6 fines per thousands residents. Compare that with Tel Aviv, where the rate is 5.6 fines/thousand.
  • Yishai Cohen, an editor at ultra-Orthodox news site Kikar Hashabbat, tweets that the city has surpassed the 20 percent mark for tests coming back positive.
  • In Beitar Illit, which according to Kan has the highest rate with 28.5 percent, the station reports that the city (or at least its semi-official rabbinical court) has decided to fight back… against snitching.
  • The station sends a reporter to a judge on the court pretending to be a citizen concerned about unhealthy crowding in the settlement.
  • “Don’t snitch, it’s not your business, they aren’t coming to your home,” he reports he was told. “That’s what it seems to be with the aid of heaven.”
  • Ynet points out that the places with the highest enforcement are Arab towns. “In Jisr al-Zarqa, nearly one in three residents has gotten a fine.”
  • Haaretz’s Aaron Rabinowitz reports that while police have been deployed to Haredi areas, it appears to have been more a show for the cameras than anything. He notes that schools belonging to the ultra-Orthodox mainstream are starting to open back up illegally, joining those belonging to extreme sects which never shut down.
  • “This past Friday various Haredi WhatsApp groups disseminated announcements about planned mass events, alongside numerous requests to pray for people who have been hospitalized with the coronavirus. The stream of messages reads like a perfect illustration of cause and effect,” he writes.
  • Speaking to Kan, Finance Minister Israel Katz refuses to blame the ultra-Orthodox and places responsibility for the lack of enforcement where it’s needed most not on the cops, but on the Health Ministry.
  • “The Health Ministry is supposed to manage this differential system, and until now it has not happened. You can point to the ultra-Orthodox, the Arabs, the Tel Aviv youth — they are all breaking the rules,” he says.

4. So long and thanks for the embassy: With the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden looming, several outlets are wrapping up four years of Donald Trump with looks back at his presidency.

  • “President Trump, thank you for four miracle years,” reads the headline of a Israel Hayom column by Ariel Kahana.
  • “The factual truth is that Trump was for us, by a long shot, the most supportive president in history and it’s doubtful if anyone will come close to his heights,” he writes, possibly echoing the Bible’s closing words on Moses. “For this, Mr. President, despite the efforts of the thought engineer campaigners, the Jewish people will always be in gratitude.”
  • Well, maybe not all the Jews. Haaretz’s Alon Pinkas pens a column arguing that the question of whether Trump was good or bad for Israel is unanswerable, since there’s no objective rubric to test it by and any president can be judged good or bad for Israel.
  • As for Trump, while the columnist admits that he did several “good” things for Israel, he notes that “if a president was bad for America – and that is, of course, a subjective assertion in itself – if that president significantly and profoundly diminished America’s credibility in the world, alienated most of its allies, retreated from world affairs, reneged on commitments and continued America’s disengagement from the Middle East, none of that is ‘good for Israel.’ None of that makes Israel stronger or safer.”
  • ToI’s Jacob Magid focuses on envoy Ron Dermer, who spent the last four years feasting at Trump’s pro-Israeli-positions buffet, but has alienated (and was alienated by) Democrats and is thus getting out of Dodge with the blue team coming back to power.
  • Says a senior congressional staffer: “I don’t know of a single Democratic member of Congress who doesn’t now hold their nose when working with Ron Dermer.”
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