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Israel media review

Tight club: What the press is saying on September 22

The first rule of tight club is that you do not talk about tightened coronavirus restrictions, since they’ll change tomorrow; anyway the PM’s people break the rules, so why not you

Police at a temporary "checkpoint" in Jerusalem, on September 21, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Police at a temporary "checkpoint" in Jerusalem, on September 21, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

1. The lackdown: Several days into Israel’s new lockdown, the media is watching closely as the government appears set to possibly impose even stricter rules on movement.

  • The main target appears to be the many loopholes, which have created what Yedioth Ahronoth calls a “half lockdown,” though there are also public grumblings about damage to the economy and to mental health and what appears to be mercurial decision making at the top, leaving everyone confused.
  • “The familiar song of changing decisions is expected to return today — with the tune of the last one still not completed — in a coronavirus cabinet meeting on tightening restrictions,” quips Army Radio.
  • “As long as we continue with the current routine, there’s no chance of getting out of this. For seven months we’ve been dealing each day with what happens tomorrow — you cannot manage a national crisis like this,” former national security adviser Giora Eiland tells the station.
  • In Haaretz, Sami Peretz writes, “The main problem for the cabinet and the coronavirus cabinet is that the objectives of this lockdown are not clear. The economic results are clear – a drop in GDP and jobs – but there won’t necessarily be a drop in the rate of infection, as government officials, including Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish, have said. The suffering, both social and economic, resulting from the lockdown must be offset by a reduction in the incidence of illness. Instead, before anyone in the government can point to the goals of this lockdown, the coronavirus cabinet is already debating whether to intensify it.”
  • Most media outlets focus on changes being proposed by coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu, who was reported at the end of last week to be opposed to tightening the rules any more.
  • Channel 12 news reports that Gamzu is looking to: cut private sector workplaces to 50 percent in-house; close up synagogues and forbid prayer gatherings (even for Yom Kippur); close all retailers (including those selling palm fronds and citrons for Sukkot; and up enforcement of measures shutting ritual baths.
  • “If we decide to tighten, we need to do all the measures together and not split them. The move needs to be made as early as possible,” the channel quotes Gamzu saying.

2. No minyan, no peace: Lest you thought Gamzu wanting to do them all together had a health reason behind it, other reports would appear to suggest that the real reason is because the ultra-Orthodox want to make sure that everyone suffers equally, out of a sense of fairness.

  • Walla reports that chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and told him if you are going to clamp down on religious services, then you need to clamp down on others as well.
  • “If there is no enforcement on gatherings for other matters, you cannot close synagogues because people will not listen,” he is quoted by the news site warning them.
  • Kan reports that Lau was speaking about protests, which have been allowed to continue, but are coming under fire, especially from within Netanyahu’s camp, seeing as he is their main target.
  • Channel 13 news reports that Justice Minister Amir Ohana indeed tried to push new rules at a cabinet meeting that would limit protests, attempting to introduce a letter from an outside jurist who said partially squelching protests was all hunky dory (Israel’s own attorney general, who works under Ohana, has said otherwise).
  • Blue and White angrily replied “over our dead coalition” (not in so many words), and Ohana eventually shelved the proposal under protest.
  • “The Israeli government has but one authorized legal adviser. We won’t allow the the politicization of the professional echelon of the government,” a party source is quoted saying.
  • There’s no word about what’s in the letter, but backing the idea of limiting protests is former Supreme Court Justice Amnon Rubinstein, who tells Kan “The right to protest is important and I of course support it, but straight thinking tells me this is a danger to life. Everyone understands the protests are virus incubators, you see people crowded together, you don’t need Health Ministry stats. You also need to think of the health of the police.”
  • Support for shutting both synagogues and protests also comes from an unlikely place: Channel 12, specifically Yaron Avraham, who pens a column saying that the government failed, but the people need to buck up as well and take some responsibility.
  • “Synagogues need to close immediately and prayers need to move into the open air, forgive me [Yaakov] Litzman and the Admor of Gur. The protests need to lower their profile right away: protest from bridges, in a controlled way, in capsules, with personal responsibility for everyone. The virus is stronger than hate for Netanyahu, and when the numbers go down, come back with all your might. It’s your right,” he writes.

3. War of the wards: Most of the coverage in the print press is centered around fears of hospitals overcrowding and no longer being able to cope with the influx of patients.

  • According to the official Health Ministry dashboard, there are nearly 1,400 patients hospitalized, including over 600 in serious condition.
  • “We’re seeing a rise in the number of kids who need to be hospitalized. The numbers by us are almost double. The more they go up, the harder it will be to give our best care,” Dr. Itai Pesah, head of the Sheba coronavirus ward, tells Army Radio.
  • “The alarm is real,” Hebrew University Professor Ronit Calderon-Margalit writes in Israel Hayom. “The health care system is already under a heavy burden, to the extent that hospitals are opening coronavirus units in basements and parking lots, and patients are transferred from hospital to hospital. Some hospitals are refusing to take additional patients.”
  • In Yedioth, writer Benjamin Tobias gives a horrifying inside scope of the coronavirus emergency rooms, after being shoved into one when he went to a hospital for a procedure, had a fever and was shunted into the ward as a precaution.
  • His take: “I’ll leave you with just a taste of the endless cries of the nurses from the entrance during the four hours I was there: ‘Another one! No, enough, impossible! They brought me 10 confirmed cases in 10 minutes … I can’t take anymore, put them somewhere else… I need more hands … Another confirmed case … everyone has it! … When are we getting the results already? … Another one, I told you to stop bringing them here. I get it, MDA, but understand where I’m coming from.’ And of course the endless alarms ‘staff to ER, urgent staff to ER,’ … I’ve been to emergency rooms before. I’ve heard the calls and alarms. Not like this, not at this frequency and not with the sensation of being in a field hospital in a war movie.”
  • Kan reports that there’s a possible easy fix: A hospital in Rishon Lezion, built for NIS 30 million to house coronavirus patients, sitting empty and locked.
  • “There are 350 beds, 10 ventilator wards with new machines, four dialysis machines, an emergency room and a command center. Health Ministry sources expressed surprise and disappointment that the ministry is warning about collapse while a hospital sits locked and empty.”

4. Elective Boogaloo: Things are apparently so bad that the Health Ministry hospital dashboard has stopped listing how close to capacity (or over) hospital coronavirus wards are. It does still list general capacity, though, with the good news that most are nowhere near 100 percent. Some hospitals, thus, are grousing over the loss of elective surgeries.

  • “Delaying elective procedures is going to hurt many many people. We hurt a lot of Israelis in March and April, and some of them lost their lives because of this,” Hadassah head Zeev Rothstein tells ToI.
  • “We should care for our people, for the old person who cannot walk without an operation on his hip and the person who will become paralyzed without a back operation. We should give everyone treatment,” he adds.
  • Yedioth runs a front page headline for “The patients who were left behind.”
  • The paper reports that among the procedures that are expected to be delayed are orthopedic surgeries, cataract surgeries, knee replacements, spine alignments, appendix removals, and cancerous growth removals.
  • Dr. Arnon Afek tells the paper that “elective” is not always black and white.
  • “In the case of a person suffering from hernia or who has an ankle injury, then we are talking about surgeries that seem like they can be put off for a month or two of three, but you need to understand that it is linked to the person’s suffering,” he’s quoted saying.

5. As Luk would have it: The scandal over Netanyahu’s aides apparently breaking quarantine is also continuing to smolder, seen as a major contributing factor to a perceived lack of public adherence to the guidelines.

  • Netanyahu “continues to exhort Israelis at a time that he and members of his staff are thumbing their noses at the rules and regulations,” chides the lead editorial in Haaretz.
  • The paper’s Yossi Verter points out that one aide, Topaz Luk, was reportedly (though he puts it down as fact) trying to film coronavirus deniers to smear the anti-Netanyahu protests, which sets him on a fuming missive about all the ills of all the prime ministers’ men: “All the problems have emerged from him and his circle – violations, lies, incitement, smears, blood libels. The Pandora’s box in the prime minister’s residence, in the spirit and on the orders of his son, is a far greater source of danger to the public’s health than the virus. Modern medicine will never find a vaccine for that.”
  • “When this is what the leader is like, that’s what his inner circle is like. And when that’s what his inner circle is like, it’s unsurprising that half the country thinks it’s fine when they cheat on the lockdown rules and cause further rises in the curves of all our woes,” he adds.
  • He’s not the only who’s mad. Coalition whip Miki Zohar, speaking to Kan radio, gets in an angry back and forth with his interlocutors when he basically refuses to answer a question about Luk. “I’ve interviewed a lot of people who try to avoid answers and yours is the lowest,” one of them tells him, to which Zohar responds, “I’ve been interviewed by a lot of people and you are the most cynical.”
  • He adds, “Keep wading in the muck, I’ll deal with the serious stuff,” before an awkward sign-off.
  • Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom doesn’t ignore the story entirely, but it buries it on page 7, in a small box beneath a much larger story on all the excuses regular Israelis are giving to cops when caught breaking lockdown: “The Jewish mind does not just invent patents, but also excuses.”
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