Israel media review

We’ll cut it off at the pass: What the press is saying about virus curbs and NSO

The press knows what ministers will do before they do it, and why it will or won’t solve rising morbidity rates. Plus NSO finds the bad guys behind its bad press: Ben and Jerry

A police officer enforces COVID-19 regulations at Ben Gurion International Airport on July 19, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
A police officer enforces COVID-19 regulations at Ben Gurion International Airport on July 19, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

1. Curb your post-COVID enthusiasm: Israel on Thursday morning was gearing up for more possible coronavirus restrictions, with top ministers expected to meet on the matter later in the day.

  • As has become de rigueur, many news outlets run with leaks of what the Health Ministry will propose at the meeting and assume that all of it will be approved.
  • “Apparently the main decision by the cabinet will be to impose the Green Pass on all businesses, including gyms and restaurants, starting next Wednesday,” reports Walla news, referring to the plan by which only those who have been vaccinated, recovered or get a negative test will be able to enter.
  • As for the rugrats, who can’t get vaccinated, the paper reports — with no hint of anything off about the plan — that kids “make up a respectable portion of attendees at cultural and entertainment events during summer break, [so] at the instruction of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other ministers, kids of this age will be allowed to enter freely without a Green Pass.”
  • It’s only temporary of course, and is expected to be supplanted by requiring rapid testing, once the quickie test regime is up and running. “The main consideration is the Green Pass, and I’m happy they are moving in that direction,” health expert Nadav Davidovitch tells Army Radio. “But it needs to come together with rapid testing and being ready for the next school year.”
  • Channel 12 news focuses on what the cabinet will decide regarding the list of countries on its no-fly list or must-quarantine list. According to the channel, ministers are expected to add the UK, Cyprus, Morocco and Turkey to its no-fly list due to significant upticks in cases in those countries.
  • The channel also reports that the US may be added to its list of countries from which returnees must quarantine for a week.
  • “The suggestion of having everyone who returns from abroad enter quarantine is off the table,” it reports.
  • According to Kan, airlines will present ministers with another proposal —  more tests instead of quarantine: “In some cases there will be five to six tests.”
  • The broadcaster reports that dozens of countries are slated to be added to the must-quarantine list, and that Greece has requested it not be included.
  • Israel Hayom doesn’t shy away from making its opinions crystal clear, accusing the government of talking too much and doing too little: “Instead of tightening airport controls, they are adding countries to the red list. Instead of seriously limiting gatherings, you can have an event with 100 people freely. The cabinet will decide on the bare minimum demanded,” reads the subheadline on its main “news” story.

2. Getting it wrong: That’s not to say there is no valid criticism. Yedioth Ahronoth reports on what it calls “extraordinary” criticism from the IDF’s Home Front Command against politicians, accusing them of allowing morbidity to rise without doing anything. “This rise will continue so long as decisions are not made to stop the spread,” it quotes from a memo between the army and health officials following meetings between them.

  • “That being said, sources who took part in the meetings … claim that it’s too harsh an analysis and that no criticism of politicians was heard in the meeting,” the paper adds.
  • In Israel Hayom, columnist Ariel Shmidberg questions the government’s timing. “Ministers talk privately about the ‘unavoidability’ of a lockdown in September. Not an ‘estimation’ but a fact. When you ask them why they are waiting a month and a half with numbers going up so drastically, they mumble something about ‘nobody wants a lockdown in the summer,’” he charges.
  • Meanwhile former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s boast about speaking to vaccine firms behind Bennett’s back kind of backfires. “We don’t need help from him,” Channel 12 quotes Health Ministry head Nachman Ash saying.
  • There are also questions about some of the ways data is being used.
  • Channel 12 runs a story claiming that those who are seriously ill are not as seriously ill and are being released from the hospital faster. The proof? In the first week of July, patients averaged just eight days in the hospital, versus 10-12 days in the preceding six months. Of course, there’s the small matter of that fact that one sample is made up of a few dozen patients over a single week, and one sample is made up of thousands of patients over a six-month period, but why split phone-book sized hairs?
  • ToI’s Nathan Jeffay reports that experts are throwing shade at a study that supposedly showed a major drop in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s protective abilities, which the internal study showed dropping to 80% for the general population and 50% for the elderly.
  • The research process “skews the results to make the vaccine seem less effective than it is,” Dr. Dvir Aran, an expert in health statistics from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, tells him.

3. Phishing food: Shalev Hulio, the boss of beleaguered NSO Group, is making the media rounds insisting that his spyware company has done no wrong as it gets battered with the worst kind of press worldwide.

  • “Let me say something simple: We sell systems to combat crime and terror. Anyone who uses our software to eavesdrop on a journalist, human rights activist, this is a serious violation of our contract, and even our trust,” Hulio tells Army Radio.
  • “There is one thing I want to say: We built this company to save life. Period,” Hulio tells The Washington Post. “I think there is not enough education about what a national security or intelligence organization needs to do every day in order to give, you know, basic security to their citizens. And all we hear is this campaign that we are violating human rights, and it’s very upsetting. Because I know how much life has been saved globally because of our technology. But I cannot talk about it.”
  • What he apparently can talk about is the supposed cabal of haters trying to take him down. “To come up with such a consortium of journalists from all over the world and then include Amnesty [officials] – it looks like it has a guiding hand,” Hulio says to Israel Hayom.
  • When asked who the puppet-master is, he has an answer ready: Ben and effing Jerry.
  • “I believe that it’s either Qatar or BDS, or both. It always ends up being the same entities,” he says. “I don’t want to sound cynical, but there are people who don’t want ice cream imported [to Israel] or to see our technologies exported. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the same week they are trying to prevent Cellebrite from having its IPO, and reports come out about Kandiru and Quadream, and then us. It just doesn’t make sense that it’s all just a big coincidence that everything is happening at the same time.”
  • In Haaretz, arms control activist Eitay Mack bemoans the fact that NSO got scooped by Ben and Jerry’s settlement boycott while the public pays little attention to what Israel is basically letting NSO sell to abusive regimes.
  • “Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and other cabinet ministers decided it was urgent and essential to condemn in a unified demagogic wave the ice cream brand’s decision and even claimed, implicitly or explicitly, that it fueled antisemitism and terrorism,” he writes. “But they all retain the right to remain silent regarding the Defense Ministry granting licenses to NSO, which serve in practice as licenses for state-sponsored terrorism against civil society around the world.”
  • While Israel has made a stern face at NSO and promised to investigate everything, former top spy-turned-politician Ram Ben Barak tells Army Radio that “I don’t justify misuse of the system, but sometimes it’s convenient for Israel that there are countries that know how to recognize terror. Activities that start in Africa or anywhere else make their way to Israel as well.”

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