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Israel media review

Whose call is it? What the press is saying about vaccine and phone refusers

With school back in session, the question turns to whether teachers or other workers can be compelled to get the shot; plus Biden ghosting Netanyahu takes a strange turn

An Israeli health worker waits for people to come get vaccinated at a largely empty Clalit Health Services vaccination station on February 7, 2021, in the northern city of Herzliya. (Gili Yaari  /Flash90)
An Israeli health worker waits for people to come get vaccinated at a largely empty Clalit Health Services vaccination station on February 7, 2021, in the northern city of Herzliya. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

1. Israel’s got class: Classes are back in session Thursday for the first time in over a month, and as in previous rounds of reopening, relief to have kids back in school in many cases trumps fear of the raging pandemic.

  • “There’s no substitute for real meetings with the kids,” one parent tells Ynet. “There’s some worry over the spread of the disease which is still continuing, but the situation of kids stuck at home is no less worrying.”
  • “I loved Zoom, but it’s funner to go back. I missed my friends, even though I saw them over lockdown, but not everyone,” a fourth-grader tells Walla.
  • The Israel Hayom tabloid goes all out for the reopening, gussying up its first six pages like it’s the first day of school in September (yes, in Israel, the first day of school is such a big deal that newspapers devote several pages to it on September 1 every year.)
  • Both Kan and Haaretz report that only one-fifth of students are going back, though by that they don’t mean that parents are keeping them home over worries around the fast-spreading British variant, but rather that only 20 percent of kids are in classes that are allowed to reopen — that is grades 1-4 and 11-12 and preschools in towns with lower infection rates or high vaccination rates.
  • Though in some small towns, schools in areas with high infection and low vaccinations rates are also reopening by calculating their numbers according to the larger regional council they’re. And other places, like Jerusalem, are being calculated by neighborhood. Confused? Join the club.
  • “Every city has a bunch of different traffic light plans – from the Home Front Command and the Health Ministry and Education Ministry. Each one has a different traffic light outline, and divides the neighborhoods differently, and each one insists that they are the one who decides. The result is total chaos. There’s no synchronization among the government ministries, and the ones who pay the price are the parents, principals and the local authorities,” a big city official from central Israel tells Haaretz.

2. My posse don’t do vaccines: Education Minister Yoav Gallant tells Kan that he doesn’t think schools are places where the disease spreads, but rather just mirror what’s happening outside, since we live in a world where infection rates just happen to go up, by total coincidence, every time schools are back in session.

  • He also says he does not think that teachers should be compelled to be vaccinated against the virus. “I’m against sanctions, but I call on teachers to vaccinate. The way is not by force.”
  • Fine, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tells Army Radio, but those teachers, and any other worker who refuses vaccination, will need to be tested. A lot. Like every two days. “Nobody has the right to endanger those they work with.”
  • Testing people for a dangerous disease? That sounds a whole lot like sanctions to me, says anti-health regulation crusader MK Yifat Shasha Biton, who just happens to be running for re-election. “Telling a teacher who refuses to be vaccinated that they can’t teach or have to be tested every 48 hours on their dime — that’s a form of coercion that will create opposition,” she tells Army Radio.
  • Lawyer Shimon Tzur tells Channel 12 that it’s not clear employers can compel workers to get vaccinated, but notes that once a law is passed requiring vaccination or frequent testing, it’s unlikely an employee trying to sue their place of work over vaccine or testing requirements will succeed.
  • “Courts are also under strict rules during the coronavirus period regarding who can enter the room and where people can go in open areas of the courthouse. A worker in a closed space near other workers or customers is no different from a worker at the court, a lawyer or other judicial officials,” he says.

3. Young and wild and vaccine-free: Yedioth Ahronoth leads off its front page with the shocking news that young people are not flocking to be vaccinated.

  • According to the paper, several vaccination centers are reducing hours due to the low turnout.
  • “We have seven vaccine lines in our big center at Tel Aviv,” an official from the Leumit health care provider says. “It’s clear the demand does not justify it.”
  • “We need to tell young people who are not getting vaccinated — the decision each of us need to make is: vaccine or coronavirus,” the head doctor of an internal medicine ward in Jerusalem tells Kan.
  • Haaretz reports that public polling found that Arab Israelis fear dying from COVID-19 more than any other group, but also have the highest number of people who do not plan on being vaccinated.
  • “So what is driving so many people to refuse a vaccine found to be effective and safe during a raging pandemic? According to the survey, the main reason is that they fear the vaccine may not be safe. Of those who chose not to be vaccinated, 53 percent said they did so because ‘there is not enough information about the damage the vaccine could cause in the long term,’” the paper writes.
  • Channel 12 reports that Bnei Brak has come up with a great solution to the problem: an all-night vaccination drive during which those who know in their kishkes they should get the shot will also get some cholent and other snacks for their trouble.

4. Oh Danny boys, the POTUS isn’t calling: On the foreign policy front, US President Joe Biden’s ghosting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is growing more and more noticeable.

  • Former consul to New York Dani Dayan tells ToI’s Lazar Berman that “I interpret it as a clear sign of displeasure. … I hope it’s a symbolic thing to show their displeasure that will not have serious political consequences in the decision-making process.”
  • Another former envoy in the US with a similar name, Danny Danon, makes waves by trying to tweet-shame Biden into calling Netanyahu, and boy does it backfire.
  • ToI sister site Zman Yisrael reports that Netanyahu’s people apparently thought the move by Danon was meant to embarrass the prime minister and spur him to appoint him to a new role to avoid further embarrassment.
  • Danon tells Army Radio he didn’t write the tweet, or compose it with the knowledge of the prime minister or his rivals, but is fine with it anyway.
  • “I didn’t formulate the tweet, but I take responsibility for it,” he says. “The choice of words was not successful but I stand behind the message.”
  • Yedioth reports that US officials have signaled that once Biden starts calling leaders in the Middle East, Netanyahu will be first on the list.
  • “That Biden hasn’t called Netanyahu doesn’t mean Israel is not important. I assume the call will come next week,” says another Dan, former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.
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