Dip the lockdown in the loophole: What the press is saying on September 18

1. High Holey Days: Israel is locking down nationally for a second time starting Friday, but if you are reading this, you probably already knew that. And if you know what Israel means by “lockdown,” then you are seemingly ahead of the game, with uncertainty surrounding the rules and regulations, to say nothing of questions about its effectiveness and the role of political meddling in health decisions.

  • The lockdown was already riven by critical concerns from interested parties and uninterested but opinionated parties, before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, back from Washington for almost a full day, decided to get up in front of the nation and announce that they should expect things to possibly be tightened considerably, joining other officials who had said pretty much the same thing.
  • The result is that even before the lockdown goes into effect Friday, officials and others are predicting its swift failure and the imposition of an actual lockdown.
  • Haaretz calls the current lockdown everything from “patchwork” to “fake,” given all of the many loopholes involved.
  • “The cabinet is trying to slip in a ‘soft lockdown,’ with a slim chance of success, as an interim measure before imposing a full lockdown,” accuses the paper’s Ravit Hecht.
  • Israel Hayom blames the creation of a government “exceptions committee” at the start of the week for poking enough holes in the lockdown to make it into a mirage. It also claims that the version of the guidelines eventually published was “less strict” than what the cabinet actually decided on.
  • “A situation has been created in which through the multitude of exceptions, you cannot see the lockdown,” a Health Ministry source is quoted saying.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Health Minister Yuli Edelstein angrily referred to the lockdown as “swiss cheese,” (which sounds slightly better than “they are taking away my lockdown,” another quote attributed to him in the press) after which he and Netanyahu convened a meeting of health experts to talk about what to do about it. “All the participants were convinced that they would not manage to ratchet up the restrictions before the holiday, but decided that there is no choice but to tighten the rules right after, starting from Monday,” it reports.
  • Among the possible new rules, according to Yedioth, are the closure of more stores and perhaps even synagogues, with it teasing a chance that Yom Kippur prayer guidelines may be changed.

2. The rules they are a ‘changin’: Netanyahu’s unhappiness with the current rules was played up for all the drama possible by news networks Thursday night, leading some to believe that rules would change again in the hours before it went into effect.

  • In fact, they did change, but the other way, with lawmakers extending the 500-meter limit to a full kilometer.
  • “We went to sleep with harsher restrictions, we woke up to lighter ones,” quips ex-journalist Amir Ben David on Twitter, a reference to the 1996 election, when exit polls incorrectly handed the win to Shimon Peres before Netanyahu emerged the victor.
  • The fact that people thought changing the rules hours before the lockdown goes into effect was a possibility speaks to how Israelis view the decision-making process: ad hoc, illogical, opaque and deeply infused with the stench of politics.
  • “At this stage the Israeli battle against the coronavirus looks like a disheartening failure: a lethal combination of bad management, chaos, arrogance, zero personal example by the leadership and insufficient cooperation by the citizenry,” writes Haaretz’s Amos Harel.
  • “The guidelines are complicated, frequently self-contradictory and constantly changing. With no real justification, they favor interest groups and, in particular, are heightening the tension between Haredim and the secular population, because of Netanyahu’s almost total capitulation to ultra-Orthodox demands,” he adds.
  • “This lockdown, only one thing is clear: there will be massive economic damage,” reads a Ynet headline.
  • At Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda outdoor market, sellers tell Israel Hayom that there is much confusion about who can open and who can close.
  • “This is going to be a massive mess,” one shopper tells the paper. They say, ‘go to the beach, but don’t swim.’ This is all garbage.”
  • You can read ToI’s own rundown of the guidelines, at least as they stand now, here.
  • ToI’s Nathan Jeffay writes that given infection patterns, a system of local lockdowns would have sufficed. But doing so would further marginalize ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities already shunted to the fringes of society.
  • “For many Israelis, however, the decision to abandon the local fight and lock down all of Israel reflects the worst of the country’s sectarian politics, with Haredi MKs flexing their muscles, knowing they can wreak havoc in the coalition if they don’t get their way, and Haredi mayors telling the rest of the country that if they are going down, the rest of the country is going down with them.”

3. Oh, the places you’ll go: Fears are rampant that there will be mass disobedience from all walks of life. That includes from those who don’t trust the government, those who place religious tradition over the rules of man, those who don’t feel like it, and those who will take advantage of the loopholes.

  • Channel 12 news reports that 400 buses have been ordered to Jerusalem and hundreds more in other cities, and that police have received a plethora of requests for protest permits in ultra-Orthodox areas. They aren’t for Black Hats Lives Matter protests, though.
  • “This is the smart way to get home after the holiday, without getting fined,” reports the channel, writing that police think it’s how Haredi families will get together for Rosh Hashanah and get back home without getting in trouble. (The scheme is reminiscent of a scene in the movie “Up in Smoke,” in which a family calls immigration services on itself to get a free deportation trip back to Tijuana for a wedding. Not that there’s anything wrong with the fact that Israel’s lockdown looks like a Cheech and Chong movie.)

  • According to the report, police want to stop the alleged con, but are hamstrung by the rules, which allow travel for protests. While the channel calls the protest permits “an excellent excuse,” it notes that actual large protests against the lockdown are in fact expected on Sunday night.
  • Channel 13 predicts that many will keep going about their daily lives, with little the 7,000 police dispatched to enforce the lockdown can do about it.
  • “Someone caught too far from home can claim they are going shopping for food or medicine, on the way to a clinic, psychologist or other treatments, or is just out for a walk. In cases like this, allowed under the law, authorities and police will have a hard time sussing out the truth-tellers from the liars.”
  • Kan reports that police are not planning on focusing too much effort on harassing people outside their homes, anyway, but will focus on stopping large gatherings, which are harder to find loopholes for, unless you call a wedding a protest.
  • “Let’s just keep the lockdown rules and not look for holes,” Prof. Shuki Shamir, on coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu’s advisory panel, tells Army Radio. “Anyone who wants to be a wise guy and find ways to get around the rules will manage. The other way is to go into lockdown while it has some significance, and we can do this and see the results in two weeks.”
  • Journalist Anshel Pfeffer tweets that he had yet to speak to someone on Thursday not planning on breaking the rules. He also tweets a picture of families getting together for a Rosh Hashanah meal on Thursday night to get around the restrictions, which kind of defeats the purpose of the lockdown. (The virus is not waiting until Friday at 2 p.m. to start infecting people.)

4. FOMO-19: Writing in Haaretz, Pfeffer notes that unlike in Europe and the US, opposition to the lockdown is based not on a feeling of freedoms being infringed upon, but rather a fear of missing out and being a sucker.

  • “Under COVID-19, we now have entire sectors of the Israeli population determined not to be frierim,” Pfeffer writes in Haaretz, using a slang Hebrew term for a sucker. “The overriding motivation of the disparate communities in Israel during the pandemic is not to preserve their own health and keep levels of infection down, but to make sure they are not singled out for more stringent restrictions than the next community. It’s a unique mutation of human mass-psychology, which has rejected self-preservation from illness for seeking reassurance in numbers of infections.”
  • “Whether it’s the ultra-Orthodox in their synagogues and yeshivas, Arab Israelis at weddings or the secular middle-class at the Balfour protests in central Jerusalem, obstinate defiance of the coronavirus strictures has become a communal event, even a mass movement,” he adds.
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, Hanoch Daum writes that “the lockdown will not work if every group in Israeli society has claims against each other. If secular people feel the religious are getting overblown easements on religious matters, if right-wingers feel that lefties have the privilege of protesting at Balfour … if on the news there are reports about public officials having the holiday with their families, we will be defeated by the plague.”
  • “Right now there is a huge lack of trust between Israelis and their leaders, and between ourselves, and this is great news for the virus. The virus will prosper and we will count the dead.”
  • Kan’s Shaul Amsterdamski writes that one of the most important things to get the public to buy into the rules will be making sure that leaders stick to the letter of the law, especially regarding isolation for those who were just in the US. “In a situation in which many people are looking to Netanyahu like chicks looking to their mom, the public damage of breaking isolation would be massive. ‘If Bibi doesn’t have to keep quarantine, neither do I,’ they will tell Shin Bet trackers.
  • Bad news, then. Haaretz’s Noa Landau, who was on the trip to Washington with Netanyahu, writes online that while the Health Ministry said everyone who traveled had to quarantine until Monday (itself a major compromise), the prime minister and his peeps are excepting themselves “by saying they are in the invented category of pre-quarantine.”

5. Shanda tovah: There’s lots more criticism of Netanyahu and both his coronavirus policies and many other alleged ills where that came from, much of it couched within the context of the diplomatic achievements he managed in forging ties in the Gulf.

  • “The coronavirus crisis has exposed the price of Netanyahu ignoring areas that are unrelated to diplomacy and security: the collapsing health system, the choked off social welfare array, the economic bureaucracy that frustrates and delays the transfer of refunds and benefits to those eligible, and all the little things,” writes Tal Shalev in Walla. “The fruits of peace … won’t sweeten the bitter public atmosphere on the eve of the holiday, and will not silence the growing criticism of a disconnected government that has not managed to navigate through the crisis.”
  • Haaretz’s Yossi Verter writes that “Israel has become an international symbol of failure and disintegration. The man at the top doesn’t have an iota of integrity, decency or honesty to admit this and repair the damage. Crowned in glory, he returned from Washington – the capital of coronavirus denial – to a tortured and infection-stricken country. He timed the lockdown for a reasonable interval after his homecoming celebration. The last days of Dubai; sign and be merry for tomorrow we die.”
  • In Yedioth, Yedidya Stern compares the government to the Titanic, steering straight for the iceberg, only in this case they are not overconfident, but too caught up in small-ball politics to do anything about it.
  • “Those who think national resilience only comes from the quality of the army and Israel’s diplomatic standing are wrong,” he writes, without naming Netanyahu. “Peace deals are no substitute for public health, economic security and solidarity. They are also not relevant to ending Israel’s culture wars.”

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