Welcome to the coronacracy: 6 things to know for March 19
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Israel media review

Welcome to the coronacracy: 6 things to know for March 19

Israel’s democracy could be the first casualty of the pandemic, pundits warn, as parliament is shuttered by the Likud speaker, preventing oversight of the government

A security guard check the temperature of a customer to identify if he has a fever in a  Rami Levy supermarket in Jerusalem on  March 18, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)
A security guard check the temperature of a customer to identify if he has a fever in a Rami Levy supermarket in Jerusalem on March 18, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

1. Corona will fade, but will Israel’s democracy survive? Israeli pundits are  waking up to the dangers posed by new government rules — ostensibly aimed at preventing the pandemic from spreading — which could be abused and undermine its democratic character.

    • In a front-page column in Yedioth Ahronoth, veteran analyst Nachum Barnea compares Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
    • “There is no debate, no oversight, no balance, no monitoring. We are like Russia. From here on, say not Benjamin Netanyahu — but Benjamin Putinyahu,” he writes.
    • He cites the lack of parliamentary oversight over the government steps; the Likud Knesset speaker’s refusal to allow Benny Gantz’s Blue and White take control of the parliament despite receiving 61 endorsements from lawmakers to form a government; and Justice Minister Amir Ohana’s (a Likud minister) closure of the courts, delaying Netanyahu’s corruption trial.
    • Curiously, he doesn’t explicitly mention the government tracking of all its citizens via their phones as a factor undercutting its democracy.
    • “Make no mistake: There is no real connection between the corona crisis and the trampling of democracy. The trampling began before the crisis. The crisis is just an excuse… The coronavirus will disappear in the end. But in democracies, you never really get back to the drawing board. Whatever is compromised at this time, under the guise of the coronavirus, won’t easily be fixed. Therefore we must treat the coronavirus as if there isn’t a terror attack against democracy taking place before our eyes, and fight for democracy as if there is no coronavirus.”

2.While you were quarantining: Though the virus, which has infected over 500 in Israel, has not caused any deaths, the left-wing Haaretz warns Israel’s democracy could be the first casualty.

  • Its editorial says: “Netanyahu and his party members must stop denying the election results and the will of the people. If the government allows itself to use ‘digital means’ to track its citizens, it can certainly use them to convene the plenum, to hold votes, and form committees. President Reuven Rivlin told Edelstein that shutting down the Knesset harms the state’s ability to function during a time of emergency. Rivlin is right. We cannot permit the collapse of democracy in the name of the war against coronavius.”
  • Adds its analyst Uri Misgav: “Aided by the fear and sense of emergency in Israel,  there is a coup underway. Instead of a democracy, a coronacracy. Israelis must understand: While you were in quarantine, or closed up in your homes, they stole your country.”
  • Joining the criticism is popular “Sapiens” author Yuval Noah Harari, who tweets: “The corona killed democracy. Bibi [Netanyahu] lost elections, so he closed the Knesset, ordered the citizens to remain home, and releases whatever emergency orders he pleases. This is what you call a dictatorship.”

3. Wait, what’s happening? For those confused by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s steps to shutter the parliament, and what it means, The Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig-Gur breaks it down here.

  • He writes: “In fact, if the coronavirus fear were the driving factor, Edelstein would now be hard at work changing Knesset bylaws to allow MKs to convene over video conference or other technologies and to vote in absentia in plenum and committee votes. Such a change would require at least 14 days to implement (there are strict rules preventing fast changes to parliamentary procedures), but it would allow the Knesset two weeks hence to better deal with the emergency no matter who ends up in the speaker’s or prime minister’s chairs.
  • “None of those steps are being taken, because the current freeze is not about the virus. It’s about grinding the parliament to a halt in order to prevent Blue and White from taking it over with their 61-seat majority.”

4. Wave that flag now: By stark contrast, in the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom, editor Boaz Bismuth asks Israelis to string up their Israeli flags and brush up their patriotism, comparing the war against the virus to the country’s past wars.

  • The paper actually prints a cut-out flag for this purpose on page 18.
  • “Independence Day is far away, but now is the time to take the flags out of  the closet, air them out and hang them on the windows, on the porches, on the roofs. Wave the flag and fill the country with solidarity, unity and our nationalism…. Just as the coronavirus doesn’t differentiate between the citizens it threatens, so too our flag doesn’t distinguish between the citizens it protects.”

5. Hunkering down: Meanwhile, the papers agree a full lockdown of the country is only a matter of time.

  • “Close to a closure,” cries Israel Hayom’s front page.
  • Israel Hayom reports that Netanyahu is refraining from ordered a national lockdown just yet, despite the Health Ministry recommendation, because since it’s unclear when the pandemic will end, he is trying to “minimize the immense economic damage that is anyway being caused.”
  • It also quotes a source involved in the discussions as saying Israelis will be given two days’ notice, and there will be designated shopping hours in the morning and evenings in which Israelis will be allowed to go to supermarkets and pharmacies.
  • The Health Ministry has until now encouraged Israelis to stay home and only leave to buy supplies or seek medical care, but these instructions have yet to be enforced.

6. What’s the next step? And not everyone is convinced a lockdown will even be effective.

  • Writes Channel 13’s Nadav Eyal in Yedioth Ahronoth: “There is a developing problem here, and it’s simple: Israel needs a plan. Taiwan has a plan. South Korea has a plan. China certainly had one. Even Britain had a plan, though a bad one. Israel has a step, and then another step, but there is no goal and there are no means to implement one.
  • “And let’s say the whole country goes on lockdown now for three weeks. A full one. With orders. Then what? First of all, there will be massive contagion within families. A simple calculation of the duration of  the disease (22-52 days) and the incubation period (3-5 days) shows that by the time the whole family is infected, recovers, two months will have passed. There won’t be a closure for two months.  When they reemerge without a closure they will infect others. The pandemic will flare up again, just everyone will be poorer. Much poorer.”
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