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Israel media review

Up, up and away with the restrictions: 5 things to know for June 18

Coronavirus infection numbers are on the rise, but Israelis can soon look forward to taking a train to see a Dudu Faruk concert, since we’re all going to die anyway

Some 5,000 Israelis from the culture and arts industry protest outside the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on June 15, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Some 5,000 Israelis from the culture and arts industry protest outside the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on June 15, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. The virus shall rise again: With the number of new daily coronavirus infections approaching 300, it’s hard for anyone to deny that Israel is experiencing a second wave of the virus.

  • Though the numbers are tiny compared to many other places, they point to rapid growth. But unlike earlier this year, when the government swiftly shut down the country (when schools and stores shut down in mid-March, Israel saw about 100-150 daily cases; we’re around double that now) there is little indication that the new government intends to make similar moves, sparking hand-wringing by some in the press.
  • “Number of sick on the upswing, restrictions on the downswing,” reads a massive headline in Israel Hayom.
  • Kan reports that a study by the Israeli intelligence community expresses “worry” over the number of seriously ill, and says that the scope of new infections “is higher than had been estimated.”
  • Channel 12 news reports that Tel Aviv is again at the top of the infection list, with 72 cases in the last day, almost double the number in neighboring Bnei Brak, an earlier hotspot.
  • “While the prime minister has promised that by August, ostensibly, the skies will open and flights to Europe will resume, it seems that Israel and most countries on the continent, which saw sharp decreases in the number of infections, are marching in the last few days in the opposite direction,” reports Yedioth Ahronoth.

2. Back on track? Forget August. A decision by the government to allow trains to resume and cultural events to be held with up to 250 people is set to go into effect almost immediately.

  • Walla news credits the government’s decision to reopen the train to “public protest that grew in light of the heavy overcrowding on buses, which became the only form of public transportation, and given the fact that event halls, restaurants, bars and other leisure spots have already opened.”
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial, meanwhile, points out the hypocrisy of allowing weddings with music to go ahead, but keeping concerts shut down: “Singing and dancing at weddings approved by the rabbinate – that’s allowed; singing and dancing at a cultural event or performance – that’s putting lives at risk.”
  • Army Radio reports that train passengers won’t be able to just hop on a train, but will need to order tickets 48 hours in advance. “And that’s the just the start of the rigmarole,” the station reports, noting that most trips will have about half the normal number of passengers.
  • “No passenger will be able to enter the train station without a ticket, even soldiers. The count needs to be exact. This will take a lot of patience,” a train exec tells the station.
  • He says train cars will be disinfected several times a day.

3. We’re all going to die: Nearly every report on eased restriction is accompanied by the words “despite the rise in cases.”

  • Yedioth writer Sarit Rosenblum, who like many other journalists and policy wonks has wrestled with finding that impossibly fine line between public health and compassion for the jobless and lonesome, declares the situation to be a “national bardak” (Russian/Hebrew slang for a morass) in a front page column.
  • “This is a dangerous game of Russian roulette,” she writes redundantly. “The coronavirus has already proven more than once that a bad gamble can prove deadly. Our country is now being managed like one big casino.”
  • But in Israel Hayom, Dr. Tal Brosh Nisimov writes that all that’s needed is a little social distancing and alcohol gel.
  • “Without a significant change, there’s no reason the numbers won’t go up, including serious cases and deaths, until we lose control. After a few months, we have learned that this is a highly infectious disease and it seems that you can stop infections with a few simple measures: keeping a meter or two away from others, having masks that cover your mouth and nose, and hand gel. These methods have proven themselves at hospitals and will be effective in stopping infection so long as they are used.”
  • Channel 12 news reports that police say they have stepped up enforcement of the guidelines, though anyone who has been out and about in Israel knows that they have their work cut out for them.
  • Epidemiologist Yehuda Carmeli tells ToI editor David Horovitz that social distancing or not, some 8,000 Israelis will die of the disease in the next few years from the virus, and millions more globally, in his “optimistic” evaluation. The only question is whether it’s dragged out for years or we overwhelm the health system quickly, leading to even more deaths.
  • “If we overwhelm the health care system, then the numbers may go up. But otherwise, let’s assume that the health care system has no limits, and can treat everyone, no matter how condensed the cases are, then the endgame would be the same,” he says. “So our truly major task — and this is against our natural wishes — is to extend this outbreak for as long as possible [to avoid overwhelming the heath care system].”

4. With or without Blue (and White): Annexation isn’t going anywhere, at least in the press, and attention is turning to how Blue and White’s Benny Gantz and his lawmakers are reacting to the plans.

  • Channel 13 reports that at a meeting Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud Knesset speaker Yariv Levin presented Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi with maps detailing the areas Israel would annex under four possible scenarios.
  • The options ranged from full annexation of 30 percent of the West Bank to a small symbolic move annexing “a few percent.”
  • Gantz and Ashkenazi stressed during the meeting that they oppose annexing any lands where Palestinians live and reiterated that annexation should not be unilateral but part of a broader diplomatic move that would include benefits for the Palestinians, according to the report.
  • Israel Hayom, seen as close to the Likud leader, reports that “none of the maps were similar to the concept map published by the Americans a few months ago. If he gets the green light to pursue one of the alternates, Netanyahu will take it and run full steam ahead.”
  • But it also claims that Netanyahu has told associates he won’t wait for Gantz to be okay with an annexation formula, and if he tries to torpedo it — elections here we come (again).
  • “Even if Blue and White opposes the sovereignty initiative – he will raise the matter for government approval, where it will pass by the slimmest of margins on the vote of Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (Derech Eretz), who will give the right-wing bloc the required majority,” it reports.
  • Indeed, Hendel tells Army Radio that “I’ll vote in favor of annexation with no regard for Gantz’s position.”

5. When the king comes at you, you best not annex: Haaretz reports that Jordan’s King Abdullah is stepping up his fight against annexation and bringing the battle to Washington, holding briefings with senior members of Congress.

  • While an official Jordanian statement about the briefings noted that Abdullah “warned that any unilateral Israeli measure to annex lands in the West Bank is unacceptable and undermines the prospects of achieving peace and stability in the region,” the paper quotes one Capitol Hill source who says the statement was “mild” compared to what Abdullah actually said.
  • “The king stressed again and again that this is an urgent issue, and that even with COVID and other sources of instability around the world, it’s critical to pay attention to what Netanyahu is planning,” a second source is quoted saying.
    Policy expert Robert Satloff tells the paper that “It’s not clear that Israelis understand how annexation is viewed in Amman … many Jordanians view it as a big step in the process of trying to turn Jordan into Palestine, the idea of an ‘alternative homeland.’”
  • As if to prove his point, Israel Hayom, which has been the king of “they all secretly are fine with annexation” line, pushes the idea that Abdullah is just putting on a show and Amman actually prefers Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley, giving backing to a report a day earlier in which it claimed that Netanyahu would save the Jordan Valley annexation for later to tamp down on criticism.
  • “Our position on the matter of the Jordan Valley is known: We believe it is supposed to be part of the future Palestinian state. With that, we won’t accept the presence of an international military force on Jordan’s western border and certainly won’t accept the presence of a Palestinian military force responsible for safeguarding the kingdom’s western border,” it quotes a Jordanian source saying.
  • “Contrary to the poor diplomatic relations with Israel – the security relationship is excellent. We have no interest or intention of damaging our security relations with Israel on behalf of the Palestinians,” the source adds.
  • But Channel 13 reporter Barak Ravid points out that an extraordinary statement from Emirati ruler Mohammed bin Zayed, who has been leading the normalization charge, against annexation is a sign of Jordan’s influence and MBZ’s close relationship with Abdullah.
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