Israel media review

Where we don’t go one, we don’t go all: What the press is saying on September 24

Israel severely tightens its lockdown, clamping down on prayers, protests and the economy too, which some see as Netanyahu willing to pay any price to stop the demonstrations

A police officer stops cars at a checkpoint in Jerusalem on September 20, 2020, amid a nationwide coronavirus lockdown. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A police officer stops cars at a checkpoint in Jerusalem on September 20, 2020, amid a nationwide coronavirus lockdown. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

1. The tightening of the screwed: A week after imposing a lockdown derided as holier than Swiss cheese, the government has decided to clamp down, and the press sees the new rules as a “full” lockdown, though questions abound as to the reasons for them.

  • In fact “Full lockdown,” is the front page headline on both popular tabloids Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom, with the latter adding “and hermetic” for good measure.
  • This is going to be a Yom Kippur like no other, reports Yedioth Ahronoth, laying out the various rules and regulations for both the High Holy Day and the rest of the lockdown, as if the day of Atonement didn’t have enough already.
  • “The move, imposed a mere six days after a tempered shutdown took effect, came after lawmakers and health officials concluded that as the public was not adhering to health directives, a partial lockdown was insufficient,” reports Israel Hayom.
  • Haaretz includes a handy explainer of all the rules as they are understood for now (some points remain unclear), in English as well, including the useful fact that yes, you are allowed to work from home.
  • Channel 12 news, which calls it a “General and tightened lockdown,” looks at the various differences between this lockdown and the last lockdown (not the one imposed before Rosh Hashanah, but the one from Passover) and finds that it’s still not quite as airtight as Version 1.0.
  • For instance, “over Passover and before you could only go shopping for food and medicine inside your city. If you couldn’t do it from there, you were allowed to go to the next city. This time, the government did not okay any limitation on travel for acquiring food and medicine, including over Yom Kippur and the holidays.”
  • Kan’s Tamar Almog notes that circumstances have changed somewhat thanks to what the press refers to as the “Big Coronavirus Law,” which was passed in the spring and delineates the contours of what restrictions the government is allowed to impose, specifically protecting prayers and protests: “Thus they need to find temporary solutions or something that will fit within the law’s limitations.”

2. Holier than thou: In the end, ministers voted to clamp down on the protests, allowing only small groups, and seeking a law change to prohibit travel for the protests. Then there’s also the synagogues, which will still be allowed to host indoor prayer for 10 “lucky” worshipers, with the rest shunted under the open sky to beg God’s forgiveness. (Over Passover, the idea of opening synagogues was as gut-wrenching as a handshake.)

  • For those worried that allowing synagogues to open at all may be a bad idea, chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau says it’s all under control.
  • “If the synagogues are crowded, people will just be asked to go outside and the doors will be locked to keep anyone from being endangered,” he tells Army Radio, placing his faith in a public that some might say is undeserving of such credit.
  • In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer writes that synagogues weren’t waiting around for the government to decide on rules anyway and are just doing what they see best. While most Orthodox and some ultra-Orthodox shut their doors or only allowed in a few people over Rosh Hashanah, going beyond the government rules, the ultra-ultra-Orthodox did the opposite, ignoring the rules to crowd people in, he says.
  • “The further along the ultra-Orthodox scale the group is, the more motivated they are to ignore health advice. Government decisions don’t matter to them,” he writes. “On Rosh Hashanah, synagogues in [Mea Shearim] were totally full with adults and kids, and no masks were seen. Large police forces were standing 200 meters away on the seam line with East Jerusalem. None of them thought to go in.”
  • Shalom Yerushalmi, of ToI sister site Zman Yisrael, writes that he asked several ultra-Orthodox leaders why they care so much about keeping synagogues and yeshivas open that they were willing to take the government to the brink over it. The answer, unsurprising for a community that still dresses like 17th century Polish nobility, is an old-fashioned fear of change.
  • “The rabbis fear a great disconnect during the days of the coronavirus from thousands of yeshiva students, who after months of being on the outside, won’t bring things back to how they were,” he writes. “So the rabbis prefer to see sick youngsters learning in yeshiva over them being exposed to the evils of outside.”
  • In Yedioth, Sima Kadmon claims that religious leaders have taken responsibility, and protest leaders should do the same: “The most important rabbis listened this week to various voices and called for synagogues to be shut and for prayers to take place out of doors or at home. They surely remember Yom Kippur 1973, when people left in the middle of prayers, religious and secular. So that’s it, we are now in the Yom Kippur War 2020,” she writes.

3. Protest some other time: Papers also continue to be filled with pundits, and not just those on the right, calling for the protests to take a break.

  • “This is the time for the nation to determine its future,” writes pop star Aviv Geffen, an outspoken Netanyahu critic, for Channel 12. “We can’t let [Shas head] Aryeh Deri send thousands to prayer, and we can’t let protest leaders send thousands to demonstrations, because some of them are being sent to their known deaths.”
  • In Yedioth, Limor Livnat, a former Likud minister who has become an outspoken Netanyahu critic, pleads with the protesters to chill out: “The right to protest is a basic right that should not be impinged upon except in the most extraordinary circumstances. … Now we are in a war, a real war. No less. A war against this insane virus that is attacking the world and our country. This is a most extraordinary circumstance, and so my plea: Stop! Just for now.”
  • She adds: “You are not taking anything out on Netanyahu. You are just cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
  • Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld claims that the Haredi leaders have been brought to heel, and gruffly tells the protesters to fall in line: “In the new religion conceived on Balfour St. there are no rules, no personal example and not a shred of solidarity. Protesting is so sacrosanct that it also supersedes the principle of saving a life. In a properly functioning, sane society, the government should never have even had to discuss the legality of the demonstrations, because the organizers themselves would have suspended them of their own volition. Just as the worshipers, rabbis and Haredi public officials did.”
  • But Gonen Ben Yitzhak, head of the Crime Minister protest group, tells Army Radio, “For now we are not stopping protesting and we’re checking what’s going on. Someone needs to safeguard the torch of democracy.”

4. At all costs: The fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so wanted to clamp down on the protests, which many see as his main motivating factor for the lockdown, has some in a tizzy.

  • Kan quotes Netanyahu focusing on the protests as the cause of much woe during the coronavirus cabinet meetings. Since the statistics don’t back up the claim that there have been any infections as a direct result, he pivots to blaming it on creating a culture of indifference to the rules: “The thing that most unraveled public obedience were these protests where they broke the rules, and also had meals. There was a very forgiving approach toward them. This caused enormous damage. We are not canceling the option of protesting in capsules outside Balfour, I don’t buy that claim. This purist line, this populist line, is causing enormous damage.”
  • Channel 13’s Raviv Drucker quotes Netanyahu saying that “even after the lockdown we will need to find a way to limit the protests,” which he says proves the premier’s true intentions.
  • “Netanyahu came to the meeting and tried to soften the full lockdown, including support for allowing the economy to continue and the finance minister’s plan. But once it became clear that legally, if the economy stays open then the protests can continue and it will be impossible to amend the Coronavirus Law, he took a step back and went back to steadfastly supporting a full lockdown.”
  • Ynet’s Moraz Azoulay writes that the “extreme and costly lockdown,” came about due to “political maneuvering to stop the protests outside his residence.”
  • “Some ministers charged that Netanyahu deviated from his first path and measures already sketched out, including reasonable alternatives for keeping the economy going under tight restrictions, since at the top of his agenda stood canceling the protests at any price. Once he understood that Blue and White will only agree to cancel them in the case of a full lockdown, as the ministers put it, his tone suddenly changed.”
  • After the meeting, coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu is not shy about expressing his opposition against shutting the economy.
  • “I recommended tightening the lockdown, not closing the country, but the government decided differently and I respect that,” Gamzu is quoted saying by Channel 13, which sounds like the equivalent of when a spouse says “it’s fine.”
  • Gamzu also couches his prediction of “enormous damage” to the economy in the context of it being the price of Israel’s high infection rate, but few outlets buy the nice guy routine and most headlines telegraph his comments as criticism of the government decision.
  • Haaretz quotes Netanyahu as telling Gamzu that “throughout my career, there were situations in which I did not listen to the experts and I was 100 percent right.”

5. What have we learned? (it rhymes with mothing): Gamzu’s criticism is just the tip of the iceberg. Channel 13’s Nadav Eyal tweets, “The lockdown in March-April was very effective. There’s no reason to tighten the current lockdown on industry and employment (the parts that were not closed down in March). This is especially ridiculous if you see that they indeed learned something from the first one, that solo exercise outside is allowed. This raises a strong, terrible stench of a lack of substance will mostly deliver a fatal blow to the economy. Ministers, this is on you.”

  • In ToI, Nathan Jeffay writes,“Instead of the nation ending up with a reassuring impression that the decision had been made on a sound basis guided by health experts, it is left with a sense that professional advice has been ignored, and that the political considerations of the prime minister may have had undue influence in guiding policy.”
  • Channel 12 news quotes senior doctors who they say contend that the lockdown, any lockdown, is misguided, though in actuality at least some of their criticism appears to be more aimed at the fact that a lockdown alone is not enough.
  • “This government has acted with no strategy and no understanding and has not managed to contain this for even one minute,” says Yehuda Adler, a public health policy professor in Ramat Gan. “We all have a sense of deja vu. We were already in a lockdown and what came of it? Nada. What did the government do to prevent the next lockdown? Zilch. Aside from not being good public role models and making meaningless and impractical decisions. A lockdown is not a treatment for a sickness and not a solution for a pandemics. Countries that have carried out very long and difficult closures, such as Peru, today have the highest mortality rates in the world.”
  • Kan’s Liel Kyzer writes that the government actually already has a pretty good plan for getting out of the lockdown. It’s the gradual plan that was presented back in May, as Israel began to emerge, and which was swiftly thrown in the trash, in Kyzer’s telling.
  • “Not a single minister managed to keep to it. Everyone ran to open the sector they are responsible for and the numbers seemed fine, so there was no reason to stop. And you know what happened? Lockdown 2, that’s what happened,” she says. “We can take the old plan off the floor, maybe update it here and there and use it. What we are missing is a government that has the courage to stand behind the plan even after the numbers look great and beautiful.”
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