Israel media review

What’s left? What the press is saying about campaigns, coronavirus and caves

The media looks at what’s going on among the possibly anti-Netanyahu right and if they are really right, vaccine transfers that aren’t, and a race against looters in the desert

People walk past an electoral billboard for the Likud party bearing a portrait of its leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L), and opposition Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, in Tel Aviv, on March 12, 2021, ahead of the March 23 general election. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
People walk past an electoral billboard for the Likud party bearing a portrait of its leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L), and opposition Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, in Tel Aviv, on March 12, 2021, ahead of the March 23 general election. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

1. Right in the middle: With less than a week to go before the election, the mud is flying as furiously as ever, as parties try to slurp up every last possible vote or get in whatever punches they can.

  • Israel Hayom, dropping any pretense of not being a Likud mouthpiece, leads off its front page with essentially a demand for New Hope’s Gideon Saar and Yamina’s Naftali Bennett to publicly commit to a right-wing government, by which it means a right-wing government led by Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • The demand is articulated by political analyst Mati Tuchfeld, who writes in the paper that the two have little choice but to hitch their wagons back to Netanyahu or be labeled traitors to the cause: “A political leader from the right-wing camp can’t torpedo a right-wing government and continue to think they will be continue to be thought of as part of the camp.”
  • But speaking to Army Radio, New Hope’s Zeev Elkin shoots back that the camp has decamped. “No small number of Likud people are saying worse things about Netanyahu than we are saying in the campaign, and hoping that the Netanyahu era will end,” he says.
  • Could New Hope and Yamina (and Yisrael Beytenu) already be crawling with left-wingers? Haaretz reports on a poll from the dovish Geneva Institute on how backers of a two-state solution with the Palestinians are voting. “The Geneva Initiative estimated that 12 seats’ worth of voters who support two states are currently backing rightist parties – four seats for Yisrael Beytenu, five for New Hope and three for Yamina.”
  • Tuchfeld’s confidence in making such a demand stems from a claim that Bennett and Sa’ar have fallen to single-digit seat numbers and have no chance, apparently based on the outlet’s own polling. A pair of polls from Channel 12 and Kan, though, give Yamina 10 and 12 respectively, and New Hope 10 and 11.
  • Kan’s Shmuel Rosner notes that those numbers are not exactly something to write home about, considering the parties used to be polling around 20 seats.
  • “When they were big, you could see them as an alternative to Netanyahu. Now they are mostly a nuisance to Netanyahu. Especially Sa’ar, of course, because most assume Bennett will choose Netanyahu [to recommend for prime minister],” he writes.
  • Or will he? Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked gives an interview to the same station in which she clears up nothing: “We think Netanyahu’s regime needs to be replaced. We won’t sit under Lapid,” she says unhelpfully.

2. The Italian jab: With coronavirus transmission rates falling off, Haaretz reports on what it calls “the next challenge” for Israel, vaccinating the 12-16 set. The paper’s Ido Efrati reports that Israel is waiting for the final results from clinical trials to be published before getting started, and may also be taking extra time to work out how to sell kiddie vaccinations to the public.

  • “There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the fact that Israel will be the first country to immunize its kids against the virus — while the rest of the world is still vaccinating its elderly population — can lead to worries among parents. Secondly, experience has shown that willingness to get the virus descends with age. The dropping infection numbers could also signal to parents that they can wait on the vaccination.”
  • Next challenge? Israel is already stuck on plenty of challenges now. Like vaccinating Palestinians. Walla reports that 64,000 vaccine doses were transferred from Israel to the PA in the predawn hours of Wednesday, including 25,000 AstraZeneca shots.
  • Oh, did you think Israel was giving the Palestinians vaccines out of moral, health and diplomatic considerations? No, Israel isn’t giving the Palestinians anything. The shots are actually from the World Health Organization.
  • Walla also reports that participants of a meeting between the major security bodies and the Health Ministry called for the government to begin selling its extra vaccines to the Palestinians, though a source says they aren’t holding out big hopes that Netanyahu will okay selling to the Palestinians before the election.
  • “Though Israel bought vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna on a massive scale and for billions of shekels,” the participant is quoted saying.
  • Perhaps someone needs the vaccines more, like, oh a little microstate called San Marino, where a whopping 4,204 cases and 77 deaths were recorded and only 15 percent of the population of 34,000 has been vaccinated.
  • According to Kan, Ambassador to Italy Dror Eydar (a former Israel Hayom journalist and Netanyahu apparatchik) demanded that Defense Minister Benny Gantz send tens of thousands of shots there.
  • “A source with knowledge of the details told Kan news that no transfer of more than 5,000 shots has been okayed to any country,” it reports.

3. Shotshow: And it’s not like Israel’s nightmare is over anyway. “We’re still not at safe harbor,” Prof. Ron Balicer tells Ynet. “We still have hundreds of seriously ill patients a week, as a result of a quarter of the adult population not being protected.”

  • He also calls the South African strain “the most worrying,” and says it is already here.
  • “The infection numbers are indeed falling,” Tani Goldstein writes in Zman Yisrael. “But still, the decline is slow and gradual. The situation is still worse than at any time before July.”
  • Even the supposedly vaccinated aren’t vaccinated. A senior Health Ministry official tells Kan that “there are attempts to counterfeit the Green Pass — they sell it on Telegram. There’s been a large rise in the number of cases. They are endangering everyone’s health.”

4. Horror show: Making plenty of news is the announcement of several exciting discoveries in the so-called Cave of Horror near Qumran, including new Dead Sea Scroll fragments, the world’s oldest preserved woven basket, a 6,000-year-old body, and more.

  • Don’t bother looking for the news in the Hebrew press. Yedioth leaves it out completely and Israel Hayom buries it on page 18 (albeit with a fairly large package). In contrast, it generates plenty of ink worldwide and in Israel’s English press.
  • “The parchment fragments, ranging from just a few millimeters to a thumbnail in size, are the first in about 60 years to have been unearthed in archaeological excavations in the Judean Desert,” reports the New York Times.
  • Following the lead of the IAA, several outlets report on the fact that the discoveries were made as part of a “cat-and-mouse” game between archaeologists and looters, as archeologist Hagay Hamar puts it to Haaretz.
  • Helping the race was the fact that female archaeologists need to crouch down when nature calls. “‘I crouched to pee and suddenly I saw something that didn’t look like sand, and I realized it was a sole of a shoe,’ recalls IAA archaeologist Oriya Amichay, adding that her male colleagues probably missed it because they don’t need to crouch to relieve themselves,” the paper reports.
  • And this may just be the start. ToI’s Amanda Borschel Dan writes that “perhaps the most extraordinary news is that there are another 20 promising caves, holding untold potential treasures, that have yet to be excavated.”
  • She writes that according to Amir Ganor, the head of the IAA’s anti-theft unit, “most of the 600-plus Judean Desert caves have been mapped using drone technology and hi-tech mapping. That work, he said, has revealed 20 caves ‘with the potential for good artifacts’ that will hopefully be carefully excavated in phase two of the project. And another 25 percent of the desert still needs to be surveyed in the first phase.”
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