News Nosh 3.17.20

APN's daily news review from Israel
Tuesday March 17, 2020
 
You Must Be Kidding:
“The time has come to clear my conscience. It feels that the end of the world is near."
--Fearing the end of the world, an Israeli man returned a 2,000-year-old catapult bolt to Israel Antiquities Authority press.*


Breaking News:
In Dead of Night, Israel Approves Harsher Coronavirus Tracking Methods Than Gov't Stated
Government approves regulations permitting collection of data without court order, circumventing Knesset in the process. (Haaretz+ and Israel Hayom)

Front Page:
Haaretz
  • Netanyahu and Health Ministry support closing down the economy. Finance Ministry opposes
  • Delaying the inevitable // Amos Harel
  • Macron: European Union will close its borders, France will be under closure
  • 9 got infected at a nursing home, Health Ministry refuses to test the rest of the residents
  • One quarter of the residents of moshav Kiryat Yearim are in isolation; IDF declared no going home; Students in special education are left without a framework
  • 23rd Knesset sworn-in; Rivlin gave Gantz the mandate to form a government
  • (Justice Minister and Netanyahu loyalist) Ohana refused to approve Shin Bet security for Gantz and claimed: There was incitement also against me
  • British Health Ministry documents: The epidemic will continue until 2021, 80% of residents will be infected
  • Children almost don’t get harmed by corona. The reason could save many adults
  • Not surprising at all // Sami Peretz writes that Labor chairman Amir Peretz is responsible for the affair of MK Levy-Abukesis’ refusal to recommend Gantz as prime minister
  • Pushed to the margins // Difficulty of village for autistic people to deal with corona
  • “Housing market is in shock” - New projects will decrease and prices will rise
Yedioth Ahronoth
  • Stay home
  • Swearing-in during days of corona (Photo of almost empty Knesset plenum at swearing-in)
  • Global (economic) collapse
Maariv This Week (Hebrew links only)
  • Corona panic - Minimizing physical contact
  • Loss of the public trust // Yehuda Sharoni
  • “In Health Ministry, they are deceiving the Prime Minister and the public” - Sources in the Ministry claim it doesn’t know how to publish detailed statistics regarding the virus tests
  • Europe locks its doors to tourists
  • Coalition in crisis
Israel Hayom

Top News Summary:
Despite the tapping of Kahol-Lavan leader Benny Gantz to form a government, the strange swearing-in of members of Israel’s 23rd Knesset and the four bills submitted to oust Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the corona virus stole the headlines. ‘Israel Hayom’ tried to be uplifting, but also hinted at what the Israeli public can expect in the future, Yedioth berated the public and gave orders with the headline  “Stay indoors” over a photo of people sunbathing on the beach in Tel-Aviv Monday. As on Saturday night and Sunday night, also on Monday night Netanyahu announced even more restrictive measures on the general public: lessening work in the public sector and narrowing the private sector to just 30%, leaving only vital services working full time, i.e. medical centers, banks, supermarkets and emergency services. When the papers went to print there were 298 people known to be infected. (That number as of Tuesday night is 337.) See more about coronavirus in Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and the Middle East in 'Corona Quickees' below.

Elections 2020 / Netanyahu Indictment News:
When presenting Gantz with the mandate to form a government, President Reuven Rivlin urged him to do it as soon as possible. “A fourth election is impossible at this time of crisis,” he said. Gantz, who has 28 days and a 14-day extension, said his government would "heal the Israeli society of the coronavirus, as well of the virus of hatred and division." It wasn’t clear whether he was directing his words toward Netanyahu or to those who oppose a government supported by the mostly-Arab Joint List, when he added: "These are not normal days. Leaders must put aside personal considerations." His government, he said, will represent the voters of all parties. Gantz said he would try to form as broad a government as possible and reached out to the leaders of the right-wing parties allied with Netanyahu's Likud. But they refused to meet him. Defense Minister Naftali Bennett of Yamina party said he won’t meet with Gantz until Kahol-Lavan "rids itself of the support of the Joint List, which supports terrorism."

At the Knesset, lawmakers were sworn-in in groups of three, instead of a celebratory event where veteran lawmakers greet the newcomers in the plenum. Shortly thereafter, Kahol-Lavan filed three bills and Yisrael Beiteinu filed one bill - all meant to stop Netanyahu from serving - and prevent a similar situation from happening in the future. Gantz's party proposed limiting the term of office of a prime minister to two terms, ending the term of office of prime minister who was served an indictment, and prohibiting giving the mandate of forming a government to a defendant. Yisrael Beiteinu’s bill would disqualify a prime minister who is indicted. Kahol-Lavan also informed Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) that if he did not agree to convene the plenum so that a new Knesset speaker can be elected to replace him then the party would turn to the High Court. (Maariv)

Corona Quickees:
  • In the West Bank, Coronavirus Finds Settlers and Palestinians Inseparable - More than 30,000 Palestinians work in Jewish settlements, and the virus has surfaced among both populations. (Haaretz+)
  • Crossings Shut, Empty Mosques: Gaza Prepares for the Spread of Coronavirus - A near-hermetic blockade on the Strip means there are no coronavirus cases, although there are severe restrictions and plenty of fear. (Haaretz+)
  • Coronavirus takes spirit out of Jerusalem holy sites, but residents cling to faith - Chrisitian, Muslim and Jewish sites at the Old City adapt to new restrictions on congregation and prayer as coronavirus tours the Holy Land. (Haaretz+)
  • In Tel Aviv, coronavirus is no bar to springtime fun - Routines are hard to break says one local resident who visited his local cafe despite warnings to avoid crowds; but in other parts of the country, the directives are being taken seriously and businesses are suffering. (Ynet)
  • IDF readies hotels to house coronavirus patients with light symptoms - ‘Now is not the time to panic,’ says Home Front Command chief, whose unit has been working with civilian authorities to combat the pandemic. Tel-Aviv’s Dan Panorama and Jerusalem's Dan Hotels to open as quarantine centers. (Ynet, JPost and Times of Israel)
  • With No Place to Self-quarantine Over Virus, Homeless Israeli Woman Spends Night in Detention - Merchant who knew woman had recently returned from Ukraine reported her to the police for not observing the mandatory 2-week home quarantine. (Haaretz+)
  • Minister mulls lockdown of Haredi 'coronavirus' town - Some 1,500 of residents of Kiryat Ye’arim near Jerusalem are in quarantine, with 8 confirmed cases; among ill are several members of same family and a woman who recently gave birth. (Ynet)
  • *Pending 'Coronavirus Apocalypse' Impels Man to Return Ballista Stolen From Jerusalem - While cleaning for Passover, the unnamed repentant dusted off the 2,000-year-old weapon he had stolen as a rebellious teenager from the City of David and gave it back to the antiquities authority. (Haaretz+ and Times of Israel)
  • Israeli Researchers Hope AI Can Tame COVID-19, and They Want Our Help - With mass testing not yet an option, scientists suggest daily questionnaires for the public that will be analyzed using machine learning to identify infection clusters. (Haaretz+)
  • Coronavirus Closures Leave 250,000 Israeli Special Education Students Without a Framework - Parents worry that school closures might put kids off balance and cause regression and anxiety. (Haaretz+ and Maariv)
  • Defense minister cancels audiences for Memorial Day events - State ceremonies at the Western Wall and Mount Herzl will take place as usual, without the public, and be broadcast live. Official ceremonies at 52 military cemeteries throughout Israel canceled. (Israel Hayom)
  • Jewish worshippers urged not to kiss Western Wall - Coronavirus prompts Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz to issue instructions for worshippers at the holiest site where Jewish prayer is permitted to keep their distance from the Second Temple-era stones as well as each other. (Israel Hayom)
  • Coronavirus Crisis: In Touchy-feely Israel, Social Distancing Creates a Big Challenge - In a country where the concept of personal space is virtually nonexistent, many Israelis are struggling to deal with the new requirements. (Haaretz+)
  • Lebanon goes on virus lockdown as Iraqis go panic-shopping ahead of curfew - Police in Beirut order people to stop strolling on the seaside corniche as Iraqis anticipate a government-imposed lockdown. (Agencies, Haaretz)
  • Member of powerful Iranian clerical assembly dies from virus, report says - The clerical assembly has the authority to appoint or remove the supreme leader, who has the final say on all major policies. (Agencies, Haaretz)
  • Tuesday: Iran reports death toll from coronavirus spikes to 988 - 'The death toll is 988 ... with 1,178 new infected people in the past 24 hours, now the total number of infected cases is 16,169 across the country,' says health official. (Agencies, Haaretz)
  • Explained: Coronavirus in Iran: Why Did the Islamic Republic Get Hit So Hard, So Fast - Days of denials, a national celebration and an election helped the coronavirus spread quickly in Iran. (Agencies, Haaretz)
     
Other News Hits:
  • Several Bedouin IDF soldiers arrested in weapons trafficking ring - 6 troops are among 21 people, most from same extended family, arrested following three-month undercover investigation into theft of munitions that were replaced with malfunctioning fakes. (Maariv, Israel Hayom and Ynet)
  • Russia says militants in Syria's Idlib region not complying with ceasefire - First Russian-Turkish patrol on Syrian highway cut short by protests. (Agencies, Haaretz)
  • ‘I feel let down by the world’: In Syria's Idlib, a bloodier phase is on the horizon - Over the past three months, government troops have recaptured nearly half of the last area under opposition control, forcing nearly 1 million to flee their homes as the specters of more fighting looms. (Agencies, Haaretz)


Elections 2020/Netanyahu Indictment Commentary/Analysis:
Can Netanyahu Be Trusted to Manage the Coronavirus Crisis? (Meirav Arlosoroff, Haaretz+) Suspicions about political conflicts of interest haven’t been proved, but there's plenty of reason to worry. That casts a pall over the whole process.
Fighting coronavirus should not weaken Israeli democracy (Ben-Dror Yemini, Yedioth/Ynet) A caretaker government that does not have majority support from voters or members of Knesset must not be allowed to decide on measures that are undemocratic and compromise the civil rights of Israelis.
Is the Corona "coming on time" for us, the Israelis? (Yossi Ahimeir, Maariv) From the corona eruption comes something positive - the timing. Before we met it, we were, and still are, subject to other, Israel and very familiar viruses - the virus of sectarianism, manifested in hatred, malediction and threats, tearing Israeli society from the inside and threatening its very unity and integrity. This is definitely a more dangerous virus than the Corona, and it has increased its presence in the past year, over the three election campaigns, and especially after the third one that ended two weeks ago. It divided us, made the discourse violent and filled with hostility, threatening to widen the rifts within us to the point of fear of a civil war between the hawkish camps…The outbreak of a civil war must be prevented in advance. To this end, a unity government is urgently needed. The Corona virus may be the incentive for establishing it, but not the main cause. The government - and there is a government in Israel - is fighting it very seriously. Unity - first and foremost to prevent the virus of hatred from spreading to harsh provinces - is the cure…to curb the danger of the virus that is special to Israel and which endangers its safety more than any other Corona and other malice.
Netanyahu Talks Unity. I Don’t Believe Him (Raviv Drucker, Haaretz+) You really want to believe him. It’s a sensitive time, full of uncertainty, so one looks to the leader. But what can you do? His messages just don’t go down smoothly. Every wave of the hand, every blink – it all looks like his usual theatrics. When he says: “Let’s not use tricks” or “let’s put aside the cynicism,” one feels an uncontrollable fit of laughter welling up inside. There is a rational basis for this lack of trust. Netanyahu explained the need for a unity government based on the urgency of passing a state budget. What’s stopping him from getting the budget approved? Kahol Lavan would support any budget at this point.
No government, and Gantz knows it (Mati Tuchfeld, Israel Hayom) Theoretically, Benny Gantz has the votes for a government. In practice, it won't happen, even though the media and some enthusiastic Twitter users would be willing to see him sit with Hezbollah if it meant ousting Netanyahu.
Arab Israeli Doctors Fight Coronavirus as First-class Physicians but Second-class Citizens (Lee Yaron, Haaretz+) They account for 17 percent of the country's doctors and save Jewish lives 24/7. But when it comes to representation in government, even in the times of the coronavirus, Netanyahu thinks they are a danger.
The seat of the prime minister is awaiting the two candidates who won the election and they need to share it (Gideon Reicher, Maariv) Instead of setting up a national emergency government to fight the impending economic crisis, the leaders of the major parties are engaged in controversy and resentment. They both walk away from the nation that elected them.
Coronavirus Won’t Kill the anti-Netanyahu Bloc (Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz+) There's still a long way to go before Gantz can form a government; but Netanyahu himself, and his ability to make enemies, has given the centrist leader a fighting chance.
Gantz has already caved to Balad's demands (Amnon Lord, Israel Hayom) The Blue and White leader has already agreed to demands from Arab MKs that will make it impossible for him to form any kind of unity government with the Right.
Coronavirus may prove way out for Netanyahu (Nahum Barnea, Yedioth/Ynet) When the gravity of Israel's healthcare system becomes evident, the prime minister would surely prefer to have Gantz at his side to share blame for its almost certain collapse; as it stands, neither will be able to form a government without the other.
Now is the time for national unity (Rachel Avraham, Israel Hayom) The time has come for Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to put his personal issues with PM Netanyahu aside and heed the wishes of the Israeli public. The time for a national unity government is now, not after a fourth election.

Other Commentary/Analysis:
The Coronavirus Fight in Israel Is Threatening Individual Rights (Haaretz Editorial)  Netanyahu – who lost to Benny Gantz the mandate to try to form the next government – daily introduces extreme emergency measures to fight the corona virus. He is doing so without the proper oversight of the legislative and judicial branches, which are hobbled by the new directives. This includes special surveillance measures such as cellphone geolocation and the review of credit card data to track the movements of people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus as well as people who may have been near them.
Netanyahu Bought Some Time, but a Total Lockdown Appears Inevitable (Amos Harel, Haaretz+) Israel has been hesitant to adopt strict measures used elsewhere – and a lack of preparedness will likely soon result in a shortage of hospital beds and respirators.
Israel's coronavirus response is okay, but it could be better (Ron Ben-Yishai, Ynet) An inter-ministerial forum and Netanyahu's constant communication are a good way to handle the virus, but they need to overcome a muscle memory of trauma that leads to hoarding and panic buying - and get people off the streets.
To Better Cope With COVID-19, Israel Should Test More, Scare Its Citizens Less (Prof. Zvi Bentwich, Haaretz+) Broad testing of the population in a controlled fashion would reveal the rate at which the virus is spreading and locations of large concentrations of cases; from there we would derive what practical steps to take. These tests would remove or at least significantly reduce the uncertainty and fear among the population. It’s hard to exaggerate the importance of increasing the number of tests. The second issue that’s important to emphasize is the public information aspect. The information shouldn’t be coming from politicians but from the professionals – physicians and experts who understand the various aspects of the epidemic and convey reliability and validity when they speak.
Coronavirus under control? Egypt’s latest giant problem awaits (Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz+) If Egyptians want a guide for combating the novel coronavirus, it can be found not on the Egyptian Health Ministry’s website but on social media.
Only the International Criminal Court in The Hague Can Restrain Israel (Hagai El-Ad, Haaretz+) In the summer of 2014 we killed over 500 Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip, in surgical strikes and so-called statistical bombings. Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and then-Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz now head the country’s two largest parties. In the fall of 2017 then-Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, declared his intention of totally destroying the West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar…U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan for American recognition of Greater Israel… dictates total Palestinian submission, while it publicly exposes Israel’s aspiration to continue with its demographic engineering of the area according to its wishes…How many children will be killed in Gaza this summer? How many additional Palestinian communities will be destroyed in the coming years? What will life look like under a regime that aspires to perpetuate its supremacy over another people? And what are we willing to do in order to say to all that – enough!

 
Prepared for APN by Orly Halpern, independent freelance journalist based in Jerusalem.
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