Wait watchers: 8 things to know for May 28
Israel media review

Wait watchers: 8 things to know for May 28

Israelis are waiting tables again, but also waiting for a second wave of the virus; meanwhile, the army, settlers and others are waiting to see how annexing the West Bank works out

A waitress serves food at a restaurant in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, May 27, 2020. After more than two months of closure due to the coronavirus, restaurants in Israel were allowed to re-open Wednesday. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
A waitress serves food at a restaurant in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, May 27, 2020. After more than two months of closure due to the coronavirus, restaurants in Israel were allowed to re-open Wednesday. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

1. Dinner with Andre (and all of his friends): With the coronavirus seemingly out of sight and out of mind, Israelis on Wednesday night made like Lake of the Ozarks partiers Wednesday night, packing bars and restaurants for the first time in months. Adding to the crowds was the fact that Thursday marks the start for many of a three-day holiday weekend, thanks to the Jewish festival of Shavuot.

  • Some in the press celebrate the return of eateries with melodramatic pronouncements, like starving masses emerging from a manna-less desert.
  • “The 77 day fast is over: The night Israel overcame the coronavirus,” reads a headline in Walla News.
  • “Last night I experienced the death of the coronavirus,” writes the paper’s Yaniv Granot, hitting up the scene with gonzo flair.
  • “This is the most exciting day for me, and I say that in seriousness. I’ve done things, I’ve been places, in Israel and abroad, and I’ve never felt emotions like this,” the chef and owner of one Tel Aviv eatery tells him.
  • “How long we’ve waited for this. To sit around and have a beer with friends at night, to wake up and go out for breakfast. Yesterday it was already a reality, and Israelis did not stay unmoved,” reports Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • According to Channel 12 news, more than 120,000 Israelis made reservations to ensure they got a spot on the first night open. The channel notes that in Tel Aviv, many bars and restaurants said they were operating at 95% capacity and no reservations were to be had until after the weekend.
  • Touring Jerusalem’s First Station earlier in the day, ToI’s Sue Surkes reported that business was still slow and those who did show up preferred to sit outside.
  • “Had we not seen them wearing masks while they prepare in the kitchen, we wouldn’t have drank the coffee here,” says one of a self-described group of alte kockers.

2. Let’s do the wave: Despite the party atmosphere, there are signs that far from disappearing, the virus may be making something of a comeback, and news sites tracking fuzzy Health Ministry numbers that often contradict nonetheless report on a rise in cases.

  • “The number of infections is continuing to climb,” reports Ynet.
  • Kan reports that the number of daily infections doubled in the course of two days.
  • While many reports describe the uptick as the possible start of a second wave, Army Radio reports that “the health system is still not sure if we are on the cusp of a second wave, but the red light is already on with the rise in the number of cases.”

3. The kids are all sick: Most of the focus on the infections appears to be on schools, after the discovery that three faculty members at a Jerusalem high school have been infected, a day after three students there came down with the virus.

  • Channel 13 reports that since school fully reopened two weeks ago there have been 22 students (including in pre-schools) and 14 school staff infected across the country. (Considering that there have been about 300 total infections in that time period, one would think the 36 number is actually quite low.)
  • Army Radio reports that according to students at the Jerusalem school, the first teacher to be infected came to school coughing and went from class to class yelling “corona is over.”
  • The station also reports that the head of the Knesset committee examining the response to the coronavirus is calling for the government to rescind guidelines requiring kids to wear their masks.
  • “The head of the Jerusalem PTA tells Israel Hayom that schools are failing at keeping to Health Ministry guidelines: “There’s no doubt that returning to routine will bring about a rise in the number of infections in schools … The virus is not disappearing and we need to be on top of it. Kids are taking off their masks and teachers are not police.”

4. Plane diplomacy: Channel 13 news reports on a secret Israeli mission to try and save a Sudanese official who contracted the virus and who had been a main player in the secret detente between the countries.

  • According to the report, the plane landed in Khartoum on Tuesday carrying a senior official involved in ties with Sudan, medical staff and equipment, after hearing of her illness. The visiting team planned to transport Najwa Gadaheldam to Israel for treatment, but arrived too late, when she was already in critical condition. A day later she was dead.
  • The story comes out days after Haaretz editor and plane spotter Avi Scharf noticed the bizjet on its way to Sudan, in what appeared to be a first.
  • At the time, he noted that the jet had made some other interesting trips to countries with either secret ties or new ties with Israel.
  • Meanwhile, another mystery emerges as Ynet’s Itay Blumenthal notices a private Ugandan plane taking off from Luxor to Ben Gurion Airport. At about the same time, a small jet lands in Israel from Cairo, after originating in Nigeria.
  • Israel sees opening up Sudan as both a way to gain a new ally and a way to open up a more direct flight route for airliners wishing to fly direct between South America and the Jewish state.
  • What’s in it for Sudan? Writing in Le Monde Diplomatique this week, Akram Belkaid described Sudan leader Abdel Fattah el-Burhan’s decision to cozy up to Israel and away from Iran as a way to keep itself in the good graces of the Gulf and the US, as well as to keep a thumb on internal opposition.
  • “Burhan’s calculation is simple: a regime than enjoys the financial support of the Gulf states and (at the very least) the benevolent neutrality of the US, which has little inclination to punish a new Arab ally of Israel, can count on the indulgence of its new friends if relations grow tense with the political opposition at home. Burhan may be inspired by the example of Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, who is able to crush all opposition without a word of criticism from the West. It’s a calculated risk, since there’s no guarantee senior officers, and indeed the rest of the army, will accept such a rapprochement with Israel.”

5. The cyber winter of our discontent: The extent of Iran’s attack on Israel’s water facilities is also emerging.

  • Yigal Unna, who heads the National Cyber Directorate, is quoted by the AP saying in a video address to a tech conference that the attack was “synchronized and organized,” marking a turning point in the way cyberwarfare is conducted.
  • “If the bad guys had succeeded in their plot we would now be facing, in the middle of the corona crisis, very big damage to the civilian population and a lack of water and even worse than that,” he says, warning that “cyber winter is coming.”
  • Unna says the attempted hacking into Israel’s water systems marked the first time in modern history that “we can see something like this aiming to cause damage to real life and not to IT or data.”
  • The comment is a strange one, considering the long history of cyber-sabotage, from Stuxnet and the US Olympic Games program, to the Russian hacking of the US power grid in 2018.
  • His comments get wide play in the Hebrew press. “It could have ended in a catastrophe,” reads a headline from the Kan broadcaster. “All lines have been crossed, this is the start of a new war,” the station quotes him saying, paraphrasing him somewhat.
  • Channel 12 news says that Unna did not mention Iran by name but described the hackers as “not a group of cybercriminals, but a state player.”
  • The Israel Defense news site notes that “according to the Cyber Directorate head, the past month has shown that there are ‘new rules in cyberwarfare’ and that in the future this can take the form of cyber vs. cyber, or kinetic warfare – ‘everything is going to mix to full-scale combat that will aim at civilians and critical infrastructure.’

6. Valley of the enclaves: Annexation concerns are also front and center Thursday morning, as they have been and will likely continue to be for quite some time.

  • In an interview with Israel Hayom, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that annexation will go ahead and Israel will not need to have any talks with Palestinians about a state of theirs in order to get the go-ahead from Washington. “No concessions will be demanded of us, but the Palestinians will have to make them. Without any connection to negotiations,” he insists, in a quote the paper puts across its front page.
  • He also for the first time lays out what he envisions happening to the thousands of Palestinians in the annexed Jordan Valley, saying they won’t become Israeli.
  • “They will remain in Palestinian enclaves. You don’t annex Jericho. There is a bloc or two, you don’t need to apply sovereignty over them, they will stay Palestinian subjects if they want. But [our] security control will be also over that.”
  • On Twitter, anti-occupation activist Daniel Seidemann compares the process to gerrymandering: “There will be no repeat of the annexation of E. Jerusalem in 1967, which entailed bringing a large Palestinian population under direct Israeli rule. A large chunk of the West Bank will be annexed, very few of its Palestinian residents. Apartheid has many faces,” he writes.

7. The price of annexation: Yedioth Ahronoth notes that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have yet to let the army in on any of their concrete annexation plans. Nonetheless, the paper reports that the army is planning war games for next week, together with the Shin Bet, “to plan for all the scenarios in the case of annexation.”

  • “IDF brass also thinks a working group should be set up to look into the significance of the move on various areas, from farming and the economy to security and the judiciary,” it reports.
  • ToI’s Raphael Ahren smartly notes that: “How one assesses the fallout of a possible annexation … depends to a large extent on one’s politics: right-wingers dreaming of Greater Israel are convinced that the sky will not fall, while doves in favor of territorial concessions and Palestinian statehood argue that it would the beginning of the end of the Zionist project.”
  • However, no matter one’s politics, he predicts that it will mean the practical end of the two-state solution and the opening of a new paradigm toward one state, with the international community pushing for democratic norms to be upheld as more important than the preservation of Israel a Jewish state.
  • “Most of the international community never really understood, let alone endorsed, Israel’s desire to be recognized as a Jewish state. And if Israel is seen as single-handedly killing the two-state solution by unilaterally annexing a third of the West Bank, the world may just decide that what it really cares about is democracy and human rights,” he writes.
  • Settlers already on the one-state train (though not a democratic one) have emerged as one of the greatest opponents of the plan, notes Haaretz’s Noa Landau, who writes that settlers have always been divided over issues like these: “This happens every time they are asked to sketch the diplomatic solution they envisage. Over the years, attempts have been made to present such a plan, each time evoking the same bedeviling question: Is the whole Land of Israel more important, or is attaining whatever parts one can as part of a solution?”

8. Judgy judges: Haaretz leads off its print edition with a verdict by Supreme Court judge Meni Mazuz that criticized Netanyahu and the country for allowing him to continue to serve as prime minister, calling it a “moral failing.”

  • Channel 12’s right-wing political analyst Amit Segal responds to the ruling on Twitter by writing that “a situation in which a judge recommends to Israeli citizens who to vote for reveals a social crisis and a more failing of society and the justice system.”
  • Responding to his tweet, journalist Yisrael Frey tweets that “a situation in which a senior journalist recommends to judges that they shut their mouths and let only a few votes talk reveals a crisis of thought and a logical failing of understanding Israel’s democratic rule.”
  • Even if Segal tried to defend Netanyahu, his dad Hagai Segal, editor of Makor Rishon, takes it on the chin after he asks in an interview with the prime minister why he didn’t let others attack the courts and law enforcement instead of him.
  • “You’re talking like someone who is not free,” Netanyahu shoots back. “You are talking like someone who hears this blathering that they broadcast all the time on TV from the mouths of their lords from the prosecution.”
  • He also accuses the prosecution of having absolute power and being absolutely corrupted by it, leading some to comment that he sounds more like his salty-tongued son Yair.
  • In Israel Hayom, which is normally used as a Netanyahu mouthpiece, columnist Jacob Bardugo also goes after Mazuz and the rest of the court: “Supreme Court President [Esther] Hayut, and Vice President [Hanan] Melcer are continuing to wade into the political pool by deciding on the timing, on the eve of Shavuot, to publish this political manifesto of members of the holy cabal, who detail, over 78 pages, their meditations on thought, the state and morality. These justices are spending long hours to pass moral judgements on millions who decided to vote for the Likud headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.”
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