News Nosh 3.19.20

APN's daily news review from Israel
Thursday March 19, 2020
Quote of the day:
"The corona will disappear in the end. But democracy never goes back to zero: what is going wrong these days, under the auspices of corona, will not be easily corrected. Corona must therefore be dealt with, as if there weren’t a terrorist attack against democracy in front of our eyes, and we must fight for democracy as if there were no corona."
--Yedioth's top political commentator, Nahum Barnea writes in an Op-Ed today, after the government employed numerous anti-democratic  means to fight the corona virus.**

Front Page:
  • Under the cover of corona: Netanyahu and Edelstein paralyzing the Knesset, and the government continues to operate without supervision
  • Photographer in the residence // Yossi Verter
  • Coup // Ido Baum
  • As in Operation Protective Edge, also in the corona crisis Netanyahu is already thinking about the commission of inquiry that will come // Amos Harel
  • Netanyahu planned to require senior Health Ministry officials to take a polygraph
  • Fear in the Ministry of Finance: Number of unemployed will reach 750,000, the National Social Security surplus will run out within a few months
  • In contrast to the guidelines, Rabbi Kanievsky instructed that studies at ultra-Orthodox institutions continue
  • Panic levels rising”: Hospitals caught in race without laws or clear ending point
  • Corona crisis turned Biden into a symbol of stability. Now he is waiting for Sanders to withdraw
  • Why should we believe? // Yossi Klein
  • (Palestinian construction workers) Without protection // Lee Yaron and Hagar Sheizaf
  • For next year: Eurovision 2020 cancelled due to corona
Yedioth Ahronoth
  • When democracy is trampled on // Nahum Barnea (Hebrew)
  • A coup under the auspices of the virus - Netanyahu and (Knesset Speaker) Edelstein closed the Knesset
  • Israel needs a plan // Nadav Eyal
  • Corona crisis worsens - Significant jump in number of sick
Maariv This Week (Hebrew links only)
Israel Hayom

Top News Summary:
As the corona crisis becomes more severe in Israel (as of Thursday night, the number of sick has jumped to 677), so do the measures taken against citizens to prevent its spread, sparking apprehension that Israel’s democracy is being eroded - and for reasons not necessarily related to the illness (See the numerous Commentary/Analysis below.)

UPDATE: On Thursday night, Netanyahu announced that the country was going into an Emergency State of lockdown. Some reports said the move will initially last for 7 days and another report said it will last until after Passover, in one month.  This will be the first enforced lockdown since the early days of the state, Reuters reported. [And that may only have been the Arab-Israelis who were under lockdown then. - OH] People will need to stay at home for the next month and may only leave to buy food and medicine, for short exercise or to go pray. Those that work in essential jobs may travel to them.

Israel began the digital surveillance of people infected with corona and those who were exposed to them and sent text messages to some 400 people informing them that they had been exposed and telling them to go into quarantine and police patrolled to uphold the ban on public gatherings of over 10 people and the make certain infected people stayed in quarantine. The Knesset legal advisor called the cellular phone tracking an ‘infringement of democracy.' Moreover, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wanted to require polygraphs for Health Ministry staff, but Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said no. Netanyahu was reportedly concerned about the possible consequences of the Shin Bet monitoring citizens and asked to guarantee that the information wouldn’t leak out. But some of it was revealed at the debate in the Knesset Intel Committee over the plans to restrict citizens’ personal rights through a total lockdown and personal monitoring. Hundreds of people in cars drove to Jerusalem and waved black flags and eight were detained as they protested the 'assault on democracy.' Israeli civil rights organizations and the Joint List party petitioned the High Court to stop the mass surveillance. UPDATE: The High Court ruled that Shin Bet surveillance of citizens infected with coronavirus will be frozen on Tuesday if there is no Knesset oversight by that time. Another concern about Israel’s democracy arose after the Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, of the Likud party, adjourned the parliament, preventing for the second day the formation of Knesset Regulatory committee, which also hampers the Knesset oversight over how the government is handling the corona virus crisis. In Kahol-Lavan they slammed the Speaker accusing him of “trampling on democracy.” (Maariv) Edelstein said the plenum will convene on Monday. (Maariv) Meanwhile, President Reuven Rivlin called on Kahol-Lavan leader Benny Gantz and Netanyahu to return to the negotiating table. (Maariv)

Corona Quickees:
  • Half a Million Israelis to Be Laid Off in March Because of Coronavirus, State Forecasts - The National Insurance Institute's unemployment department normally handles 17,000-20,000 new unemployment requests a month, but is expecting 400,000 in March. (Haaretz+)
  • Health Ministry Says Mossad Bought Wrong Testing Kits for Coronavirus - 'Unfortunately what we just received is not exactly what we needed,' ministry deputy director general says. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
  • WATCH Coronavirus Crisis: Drone Shows an Emptied-out Tel Aviv as Lockdown Continues - Netanyahu has warned Israel would expand the lockdown to combat the coronavirus unless people stepped up compliance with guidelines urging them to stay at home. (Haaretz and VIDEO)
  • Israeli workforce suffers as coronavirus hits businesses - Almost 400,000 registering as unemployed since the start of the month, the newly jobless are struggling to understand what they can expect by way of financial assistance and benefits from their government. (Yedioth/Ynet)
  • Israeli Manufacturers Push to Be Exempt From Country’s Lockdown - Exporters fear they will be replaced by companies in countries with less draconian policies against coronavirus. (Haaretz+)
  • Aliyah and coronavirus: 24 new immigrants from U.S. land in Israel, while flight from Ethiopia canceled - The first group of immigrants to arrive in Israel during the coronavirus outbreak lands safely and is sent to quarantine: ‘Complete strangers [left] piles of supplies stocked outside our door just waiting for us to come home.’ (Haaretz+)
  • With 3,000 staff in coronavirus isolation, Israeli hospitals face a new emergency - Hospitals forced to change how they operate as guaranteeing treatment while protecting hospital staff becomes increasingly challenging. (Haaretz+)
  • Setting differences aside, Israel, PA coordinate fight on virus - Coordinating with Ramallah, Israel imposes a closure on the West Bank as the Palestinian Authority reports 44 cases of coronavirus. “Our shared borders leave no room for hesitation over the need to cooperate on the highest levels to prevent the spread of the virus,” PA official says. (Israel Hayom)
  • Israel wages war on Palestinian coronavirus outbreak - IDF, Israeli healthcare experts and international aid groups rush to bolster health capabilities in the West Bank and Gaza, where there is only one coronavirus testing kit for 1.8 million people; UN, Qatar donate millions for equipment. (Yedioth/Ynet)
  • Palestinians Defy Leaders' Coronavirus Crisis Ban on Work in Settlements - Laborers earn relatively higher incomes in Israel, where some 100,000 Palestinians work, and in West Bank settlements. (Agencies, Haaretz and Ynet)
  • Thursday: Coronavirus Crisis: Under Emergency Law, Jordan Seals Capital - Jordanian army has locked down Amman amid scramble to contain the coronavirus. (Agencies, Haaretz)
  • Coronavirus: Egypt to Shut All Cafes, Malls, Sporting Clubs Overnight Until March 31 - Egypt has so far registered 210 cases of the new coronavirus, including 6 deaths. (Agencies, Haaretz)
  • Thursday: Iran's Coronavirus Death Toll Rises to 1,284 - In Iran, every 10 minutes one person dies from the coronavirus, says health official. (Agencies, Haaretz)
  • Iran braces for '3.5 million' dead in coronavirus outbreak - Iranian Health Ministry reports 135 more people died Tuesday from the respiratory complications associated with the novel virus, raising total to 988. (Haaretz)
Quick Hits:
  • Peace Now: West Bank settlements surged in 2019 - Watchdog says construction began last year on 1,917 new settler homes , with overall average of 2,267 new homes per year since Trump took office, compared to annual average of 1,807 units during Obama administration. (Ynet)
  • ICC on lockdown, decision on anti-Israel probe delayed - The Hague International Criminal Court has suspended operations over coronavirus outbreak. International Crimes Court’s decision about whether to launch a full-scale investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes likely to be delayed by at least a month. (Israel Hayom)
  • ‘This Too Shall Pass’ Astronaut, Looking Down on Tel Aviv, Offers a Message of Hope for Her Father's Hometown - Jessica Meir frequently posts photos of Earth taken from the International Space Station, where she has been since late September. (JTA, Haaretz)
  • AIPAC vs J Street: Pro-Israel lobby loses ally as progressives score win in Illinois - Marie Newman - who was supported by Sanders, Warren and AOC - managed to oust incumbent Dan Lipinski and supports conditioning aid to Israel. (Haaretz+)

Elections 2020/Netanyahu/Corona Commentary/Analysis:
Analysis The Plot to Paralyze Israel's Parliament (Yossi Verter, Haaretz+) Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein could have stood up to Netanyahu’s henchmen. Instead he humiliated himself and let Israeli democracy take an unprecedented blow.
For the First Time Ever, Israeli Democracy Has Been Shut Down (Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz+) By next Monday, Israel may well be under total shutdown due to the coronavirus, led by a government that was inaugurated five years and four elections ago.
Human rights are our protection against harm to the government (Attorney Sharon Abraham-Weiss, Maariv) The fear of corona spreading justifies taking simple steps, and may even go far. The thing is that everything has to be done to in moderation, with transparency and while maintaining democracy.
Netanyahu Is Using Coronavirus to Hold Onto Power (Haaretz Editorial) Panic over the coronavirus, justified as it may be, mustn’t blind the public from seeing how the temporary prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and members of his party are exploiting the crisis to hold onto power. Through their management of the coronavirus crisis, Netanyahu and his government are neutralizing the justice system and quarantining the legislature.
Binyamin Netanyahu presents: A coup in the days of Corona
(Uri Misgav, Haaretz Hebrew) Under the auspices of fear and the sense of emergency, a government coup is being made in Israel. Instead of democracy, corono-cartia. The Israelis need to understand: While you were secluded and confined, they stole your country.  Even before that, the judiciary was deactivated in the middle of the night, and the camp that lost the election is doing everything possible to neutralize the legislature as well. This includes preventing convening and establishing committees, as well as sneaky moves by the Knesset Speaker to postpone him being replaced. The executive branch, the one which is appropriating for itself the government and preventing parliamentary and judicial oversight of its operations, is a transitional government that has not won public or the Knesset trust. At its head, by virtue of loopholes in the law that the founding fathers did not foresee, stands a man who has been facing criminal charges for a year and who failed three election campaigns one after another. The ultimate goal is the constant postponing of his trial and the theft of power. The media has long not been the solution, but rather part of the problem, and in the meantime it allows him to make a speech every night to the subjects as if he were the father of the nation; An eternal ruler of the eternal people. It is amazing that even this week, politicians and commentators are still walking around who refuse to understand: Netanyahu will not voluntarily go to trial and will not voluntarily leave the bunker in Balfour [official residence of prime minsiter - OH] where he is barricaded. It can only happen by force. Like any head of a crime organization, the court will need to bring him handcuffed. The Prime Minister's Office intends to register a taboo [on the virus - OH] until the world's last corona virus is gotten rid of. After all, this is "not the time" for "small politics….”
There's no vaccine for hate
(Nadav Shragai, Israel Hayom) Yair Lapid and his cohort, who are accusing Benjamin Netanyahu of authoritarianism in this war against a pandemic, cannot seem to muster the emotional fortitude required to shed their blind hatred and help carry the load.
Battle over the Knesset - In the Likud, they failed to internalize: Most of the Knesset is no longer in their hands (Yuval Karni, Yedioth Hebrew) Two weeks and two days ago, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu celebrated a big victory, apparently, after the results of the television models that were supposed to predict the election results for the 23rd Knesset. However, these were inaccurate, and the festivities turned out to be early. What looked like a big victory for the right bloc - was a loss. For the third time, Netanyahu failed to reach a majority of 61 MKs and form a government. The theater yesterday at the debate on the establishment of Knesset committees was ridiculous and petty. The Knesset's regular committee, which is held by those who have the parliamentary majority (corresponding to those who received the mandate for government assembly), is important and essential to the Knesset's activities until the new government is sworn in. The committee establishes the working procedures, approves the composition of the committees and is the authoritative and senior body in the Knesset's activities. When Netanyahu was given the mandate to form the government, the committee chair was MK Miki Zohar. When the mandate was transferred to Gantz - the committee was chaired by MK Avi Nissenkorn. The decision to establish the committee is technical, and should be made at a formal meeting of the Knesset Speaker's office. Likud representatives in the meeting, including MK Miki Zohar, made two puzzling demands aimed at sticking with the establishment of the committee: The first was equal representation of Likud and Kahol-Lavan members, so that the Knesset majority would not have a majority in the committee. But the strangest requirement was to set up a committee with no more than 10 MKs. Apparently, Zohar is implementing the Health Ministry's instructions. In practice, he uses them to weaken the committees activities. You can also set up a committee with 12 and 15 members, if you adjust the way you sit to the necessity of reality - through a video call or scattering the members in a larger hall, for example. Netanyahu is holding a government meeting on Sunday with multi-party video calls. The Knesset was saturated with a parade of threes. So now suddenly the composition of the regulating committee became a problem? The attempt to prevent the establishment of the regulating committee appears to have a cynical political goal: to disable the Knesset's activities, which could be in contrast to the transition government headed by Netanyahu. Likud members did not admit that they were no longer the majority in the Knesset. Just like the attempt to prevent the appointment of a new Knesset Speaker, even though a majority of 61 MKs applied for such an appointment with the swearing-in of the new Knesset. In Kahol-Lavan, it is estimated that the attempt to harm the Knesset's activities is part of a plan to leave one functioning authority in the State of Israel: the government. After all, the Knesset, as an institution, has not been relevant for about a year and a half. Could it imply negotiations for the establishment of a unity government? ? Time will tell. "We have difficulty going with Netanyahu while he is simultaneously trying to destroy the Israeli Knesset," a close associate of Gantz said, "perhaps because he really does not want a unity government."
Raise the Black Flag at Home. Stand Up to the Tyrant Netanyahu (Bradley Burston, Haaretz+) Corona, corona, the tyrant muses to himself, where have you been all my life?
Netanyahu and Edelstein are threatening Israeli democracy (Ben-Dror Yemini, Yedioth/Ynet) It is time for judicial activism to halt attempts by Knesset minority, lead by the interim speaker and prime minister, to disregard results of democratic elections that did not go in their favor, and show them that their efforts to cling to power are unsuccessful.
Coronavirus Conspiracies: In an Israel on Edge, Panic-mongering Incitement Can Kill (Edan Ring, Haaretz+) Conservative TV stars slur Arab citizens as 'quarantine refusers,' politicians spread debunked paranoid theories. Disinformation on the coronavirus is spreading like wildfire in Israel - and it poses a real public danger.
It's not a game either (Nahum Barnea, Yedioth Hebrew) With all the weaknesses of the Israeli regime, one thing remains unchallenged: respect for the decision at the ballot box. Rabin cleared his chair for Begin; Shamir cleared his chair to Rabin; Peres vacated his chair for Netanyahu; Netanyahu vacated his chair to Barak; Barak cleared his chair to Sharon; Olmert cleared his chair for Netanyahu. None of them liked the moment when he had to clear his belongings from Balfour, but each realized that he had no choice. What is at issue at this point in time is not only the law, the judiciary, the rules of the game, but the very confidence of the citizens in the regime, in the state. In the words of Netanyahu this week on another topic: It's not a game. The March 2020 elections are the first in which the ruling party does not receive the rule. 17 days have passed since the elections, and the Likud refuses to recognize the results. It began immediately after the polls closed, as Prime Minister's associates launched a campaign on social media networks against the Central Election Commission and the presiding judge, claiming the election was forged. It was a conscious lie, Balfour Residence Fake News, as one of them later admitted. In the second stage, they proposed to Knesset members from the left to defect to the right-wing bloc. When that didn't work out, they turned to corona. The result is truly unprecedented: There is no elected government in Israel, the elected Knesset is neutralized, and the courts are at the mercy of an appointed justice minister. This huge space is filled by one person: there is no argument, no supervision, no balance, no supervision. For Russia imagine: From now on, not Binyamin Netanyahu - but Binyamin Putinyahu. Make no mistake: There is no real connection between the corona crisis and the demise of the democratic process. The trampling started before the crisis. The crisis is just an excuse. As in corona, the number of carriers is greater than the number of patients. We find it hard to understand that the disease is nested within us. This situation is dangerous in times of calm and even more dangerous in times of emergency, when the public's confidence in the decisions taken by the government is of crucial importance. Tonight, I watch the Prime Minister's announcement over the podium - the event is called a press conference, although it is far from a party and does not have journalists - only heroic monologues - and I sincerely hope that viewers believe it. It's hard for me: so many times Netanyahu cried wolf and the wolf did not come, sometimes there was no wolf, so that I find it hard to believe him even when the wolf is real. I find it hard to believe him when he is waving his and Israel's remarkable achievements in dealing with the crisis, because, unfortunately the facts are the opposite. Israeli had good opening figures compared to other countries, and it wasted them. I would have respected him more if he had said: We were wrong, and now we are fixing it. He also takes senior Health Ministry officials with him to the districts that don’t trust him. It seems as if someone told them: "The Israelis think they are on a corona vacation. Scare them: Only if you scare them to death they will stay home." And then the Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman-To, a generally settled person, announces "many thousands of dead." If that is expected, our situation is far worse than Italy's situation. In the meantime, not a single person has died in Israel. Isn’t it yet time to dig graves in the public gardens. This may sound petty, but you should be able to expect from someone who preaches to others to keep some basic precautions. Health ministry officials speak into microphones drenched in their predecessors' spits, touch their hands on a contaminated surface and marvel at talking about social remoteness while behind them, in the transparent television studio, physical proximity celebrates. The ministers arrange their chairs as if they were children's games, but immediately at the end of the event they gather together (at least Litzman is no longer there. He gives his personal example at the meetings in Bnei Brak). The corona will disappear in the end. But democracy never goes back to zero: what is going wrong these days, under the auspices of corona, will not be easily corrected. Corona must therefore be dealt with, as if there weren’t a terrorist attack against democracy in front of our eyes, and we must fight for democracy as if there were no corona.
Seconds after Netanyahu evaporates from political life, a government will deadlock here (Ran Adelist, Maariv) The government is in a flurry that was intended to remove us from the plunder, and without a clear mandate to form a government, a bureaucratic invasion of democracy is currently underway, much like the Corona's expansion.
Israel needs a real plan to fight coronavirus (Nadav Eyal, Yedioth/Ynet)  There is no strategic scheme in place to fight the spread of the virus and mass testing must be conducted to separate the sick from the well and prevent more infection, but the Israeli authorities are taking one hesitant step at a time.
Under the auspices of the virus, Netanyahu tried to do away with Kahol-Lavan (Dr. Baruch Leshem, Yedioth Hebrew) The corona unity government is a trap for Gantz. The epidemic will make Kahol-Lavan fade away, and in the subsequent elections the right-wing will receive 61 seats en route to legislating the French law (preventing Netanyahu from being put on trial).
Knesset work stalled as Likud refuses to accept its minority role (Moran Azulay, Yedioth/Ynet) Edelstein is complicit in his parties maneuvers to prevent the Knesset majority from passing bills that will block Netanyahu from another election bid in complete disregard of democracy and the law.
What is a small Chinese compared to the end of democracy (Tzur Sheizaf, Ynet Hebrew) Under the auspices of corona, the courts were closed, digital means are being used against civilians, and panic is being exploited by opportunistic politicians. I am optimistic…..By Sunday afternoon, I had read in the paper that the government approved regulations allowing police and inspectors to impose administrative fines on those who violated isolation orders and orders not to congregate in groups, as well as regulations that allow detention hearings without the physical presence of detainees but a video call. Visits to prisoners and detainees were also restricted - even by lawyers, with whom they would be consulted by phone. And then I read that they were going to monitor phones and track Corona patients to see where they were and what they were doing. And, of course, they emphasized, the information will not be stored anywhere else. Nowhere! I calmed myself.. It cannot be used against any law-abiding citizen, as the courts are closed (though an order may be issued in a video session). We followed people a little, we detained a little, we jailed a little. What are you getting stressed about? Everything is improving here. Sit home and do what you are told. Bibi, (Justice Minister) Amir Ohana, (Transportation Minister) Bezalel Smotrich and the entire army of heaven will already tell you how to behave…
Coronavirus Shows Netanyahu Is a Good Crisis Manager but a Very Dangerous Leader (Ravit Hecht, Haaretz+) In a criminal exploitation of the historic coronavirus crisis, Netanyahu and his party prevented parliamentary proceedings in an effort to neutralize Gantz's majority.

Other Commentary/Analysis:
Coronavirus in the West Bank: We Palestinians Have Plenty of Experience Surviving Curfews and Lockdowns (George Zeidan, Haaretz+)  It turns out there are ironic 'benefits' in being so easily blockaded by our neighbors. And another surprise: an unlikely outbreak of pride in the Palestinian Authority's commitment and competence.
Israel is in all-out war with the coronavirus (Giora Eiland, Yedioth/Ynet) The government is busy patting itself on the back on the way the crisis is being handled, but there are quite a few changes that need to be made if we are to come out of it relatively unscathed.
Palestinians Would Die for the Israeli Kind of Lockdown (Gideon Levy, Haaretz+) Even the terms have been borrowed from the occupation: Israel is on its way to a lockdown, the army is taking over hotels, the Shin Bet security service is taking over our cellphones, and the Border Police and its checkpoints are right around the corner. It’s no coincidence that Haaretz’s military analyst has been recruited to serve as the coronavirus analyst. In a day or two Tel Aviv will resemble Jenin and Israel will be like the Gaza Strip. What is routine there has become a frightening dystopia here.
The Plague Is a Formative Event. When It Fades, New Possibilities Will Emerge (David Grossman, Haaretz+) When the coronavirus pandemic ends, some won't wish to return to their former lives, David Grossman writes.
As Coronavirus Ravages Iran, the Ayatollah Turns to the World for Help (Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz+) Coronavirus crisis: Iran is asking the IMF for a loan to help combat the virus - the first request for help since the Shah was in power.
The Expert Who Says Israel Is Overreacting to Coronavirus
Prof. Michael Levitt's theory that Israel is not risking much with coronavirus made him an instant star among worried citizens. (Interviewed by Amos Harel in Haaretz+)

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