israel screws the pooch

Police use force to disperse anti-Netanyahu protesters, 50 arrested
Aaron Boxerman, Timesa of Israel, Jul 15 2020

Police used water cannons and officers mounted on horses charged demonstrators to disperse several hundred people who blocked the Jerusalem light rail after midnight Tuesday, following a large protest outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence. Several thousand people had gathered Tuesday evening calling on Netanyahu to quit over his indictment on corruption charges, as several separate social protests took place at the same time across the country. Some of the demonstrators attempted to break through security barriers at the scene and clashed with police. As the protest ended, hundreds moved downtown, where they blocked the light rail system, chanting “shame, shame” and “Bibi, go home.” Police then turned water canons on the demonstrators and mounted police charged up and down the light rail tracks on Jaffa Street, sending protesters scattering to the side of the streets before regrouping. Many then marched down Keren HaYesod Street, with some pushing garbage dumpsters and chain-link fences into the streets as makeshift barricades. Several were set on fire. Police said one officer had been lightly wounded and 50 protesters arrested. police said:

We will allow freedom of speech and protest, but will not allow harm to citizens, police, media and public property.

Asked why the normally peaceful protests had reached this level, demonstrator Elhanan Marks told The Times of Israel:

Every morning, I read the paper and it feels like a slap in the face. It’s time for a change, but still no one’s listening.

A Jerusalem resident who attended the demonstration and declined to be quoted by name said she was motivated by the government’s poor response to the numerous crises in the country. But she says she sees little hope for change. Crouching for shelter behind a low wall as torrents of water swept onto the sidewalk, she said quietly:

For the first time, I’m starting to think that there might be no future for me here in Israel.

Anti-corruption protesters try to break through barriers at Netanyahu residence
Times of Israel, Jul 14 2020

Thousands of protesters demonstrated outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem on Tuesday evening, calling on him to resign over his indictment on corruption charges, as several separate social protests took place at the same time across the country. Some of the demonstrators attempted to break through security barriers at the scene. Army Radio reported clashes with police, and said two demonstrators were arrested. Later several hundreds people were said to block the tracks of the Jerusalem light rail in the city center, with police using water hoses to disperse them. Several more arrests were reported there, though there were no immediate numbers. The Jerusalem demonstration was part of the ongoing “black flag” anti-corruption protests against Netanyahu, who is standing trial in a series of graft cases.

The rowdy demonstration Tuesday evening was led by anti-corruption activists who refer to Netanyahu as the “crime minister.” Many held posters, saying “You are detached. We are fed up,” or saying there is “no way” a politician under indictment can be prime minister. Demonstrators, defying orders to maintain social distancing requirements, chanted slogans and blew horns outside Netanyahu’s home. Some placards carried by demonstrators read “Netanyahu’s corruption makes us sick” and “Netanyahu, resign.”

One protest organizer, reserve army general Amir Haskel, urged the crowd gathered on Jul 14, the “231st anniversary of the French revolution,” to “demand liberty, equality and fraternity.” As the anti-Netanyahu protest swelled, a few dozen supporters of the prime minister held a counter-protest nearby. Clashes were also reported between police and some of the protesters at the latter demonstration.

Police closed parts of two nearby roads due to the protests, which came a day after officers clashed with demonstrators as they cleared an anti-Netanyahu protest site outside the prime minister’s residence. Haskel, a former Air Force general whose arrest at the site last month during a rally made headlines, said in a tweet that Monday’s protest eviction was a “pogrom.” The arrest of Haskel, along with two others, at the end of June turned him into a symbol of the protest movement that opposes Netanyahu’s continued rule. Demonstrations have been held regularly around the country, with protesters waving signs reading “crime minister” and calling for Netanyahu to resign.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He has denied wrongdoing and claimed the charges are part of an effort by political opponents, the media, law enforcement and prosecutors to remove him from office. At the same time as the protest in Jerusalem, hundreds of demonstrators were gathering near Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard to mark nine years since the 2011 social protests that rocked the country. That protest comes on the back of a mass demonstration on the weekend against the government’s handling of the financial impact of the coronavirus, with thousands gathering in Tel Aviv for a rally that later turned violent, as some demonstrators clashed with police. People of varied economic backgrounds and sectors were at the Saturday night demonstration, including owners of hard-hit small businesses; freelancers and self-employed people; members of the entertainment industry and of the restaurant and hospitality sector; as well as university students. There has been widespread anger from various sectors of the economy whose members say the government is not doing enough to help them weather the crisis, accompanied by outrage over the alleged misdirection of financial aid and the bureaucratic complexities of obtaining assistance. In addition to the Rothschild Boulevard protest, the Israeli Scouts Movement held protests in Tel Aviv and at numerous junctions across the country, demonstrating against the government decision to cut state funds for youth movements by a third.

Israeli Data Show School Openings Were a Disaster That Wiped Out Lockdown Gains
Noga Tarnopolsky, Daily Beast, Jul 14 2020

JERUSALEM — Israel’s unchecked resurgence of COVID-19 was propelled by the abrupt May 17 decision to reopen all schools, medical and public-health boxtops have told The Daily Beast. The assessment of Israel’s trajectory has direct bearing on the heated debate underway in Pindostan between Trump, who is demanding a nationwide reopening of schools for what appear to be largely political reasons, and health authorities who caution it could put the wider population at risk. Importantly, on May 17 in Israel it appeared the virus not only was under control, but defeated. Israel reported only 10 new cases of COVID-19 in the entire country that day. In Pindostan, the debate often is about reopening schools where the disease is not only not in decline, but surging. On Sunday, for instance, Education Sec Betsy DeVos told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday:

There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous.

But that is not the case in Israel, where the data from June, the last month for which there is a full set of statistics, appear all too clear. The road from anti-coronavirus paradigm to rampant infection in this country of 9m people followed two months of almost total lockdown. May 17 also was the day Netanyahu and Gantz swore in their “corona emergency government,” whose sole declared purpose is to fight the spread of the virus. Netanyahu’s decree that the nation’s entire school system would reopen was a political flourish to signal everything was under control. The announcement followed a more cautious experiment of several weeks in which only children in the first, second and third grades were brought back to classrooms, and taught in small non-intersecting groups called “capsules.” Hagai Levine, an epidemiologist at the Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, said:

There was no measurable increase in contagion while the capsules for young children were being tried out. The association even offered the government an investigation into school-based infections of COVID-19, but was turned down. Then, contrary to our advice, the government decided to open the entire system all at once on May 17. What happened next was entirely predictable.

On Jun 3, two weeks after schools opened, more than 244 students and staff were found to test positive for COVID-19. According to the education ministry, 2,026 students, teachers, and staff have contracted COVID-19, and 28,147 are in quarantine due to possible contagion. Just in the first two weeks of July, 393 kindergartens and schools open for summer programs have been shuttered due to cases of COVID-19. On Jul 2, Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist at the Federation of Pindo Scientists, tweeted a chart showing Israel’s rate of infection surging past Europe and fast approaching the disastrous rate in Pindostan, noting that it was exactly one month since the reopening of Israeli schools.

The level of school contagion became public last week during testimony provided to Israeli legislators by Udi Kliner, the health ministry’s deputy director of public-health services, whose boss had just quit in protest against the government’s mishandling of the crisis. Israel now surpasses 1,200 new cases of COVID-19 a day. On Tuesday, Israel reported 1,681 new cases of COVID-19 infection, its worst result since the outbreak began. The source of the infection explosion can be seen clearly in the numbers from June. As Kliner told the Knesset, 1,400 Israelis were diagnosed with the disease last month. Of those, 185 caught it at events such as weddings, 128 in hospitals, 113 in workplaces, 108 in restaurants, bars, or nightclubs, and 116 in synagogues, according to Kliner, while 657, which is to say 47% of the total, were infected by the coronavirus in schools. Mohammad Khatib, who teaches public health at the Tzfat Academic College and is the epidemiological expert on the health ministry’s newly formed advisory committee on the coronavirus in the Arab sector, says:

Not a single school was prepared. Adults, including teachers and other employees, brought it into schools, which are, in the end, closed spaces. Middle-school children proved to be the most dangerous vectors. The younger students were more obedient and easier to control in a classroom setting, and had more respect for their teachers. Among high-schoolers, there was a greater ability to understand. But it is in the nature of middle-school kids to rebel, not to obey teachers, not to wear masks or keep apart.

The ministry of health did not respond to questions regarding the breakdown of schools and infections, and accurate, detailed numbers have become harder and harder to come by. Levine, the Hebrew University epidemiologist, said that in general:

There is no transparency regarding the statistics. The data is not being made available to epidemiologists, so it is impossible to gauge precisely, but we saw many confirmed cases of COVID-19 in middle schools. It is very possible that caused the outbreak.

Summing up Israel’s dilemma, Khatib says:

The fact that Israel’s school system was suddenly and shambolically reopened in mid-May, caused the second wave in June. Whatever else we say, the fact is that schools were not prepared to take students back under the necessary conditions to contain the epidemic. The reopening happened too fast. It was undertaken so quickly that it triggered a very sharp spike, and the return to more conservative measures came too little, much too late.

Six weeks after forming an emergency government to handle the pandemic, and one week after promising that a “corona czar” would be appointed to take charge of the country’s haphazard response, Israel seems further than ever from its desired goal. Calls are mounting for a national commission of inquiry to be appointed to investigate the government’s “dereliction of duty,” in the words of former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett. On Sunday, Roni Numa, a retired army general who was the only known candidate for the czar job, withdrew his name after realizing he would not be given the authority needed to coordinate a national response.

Netanyahu devoted Monday to attempting to fire Yifat Shasha-Biton, chairwoman of the Knesset’s corona committee and a member of his own party, for the crime of defying his directives regarding the reopening of public pools and gyms. The prime minister, who is struggling to keep ultra-religious coalition parties in line in the face of their demand to allow synagogues to admit up to 50 congregants at a time, ordered Shasha-Biton to keep gyms and pools closed. But without evidence proving that pools and gyms cause an uptick in contagion, Shasha-Biton allowed her committee to vote for opening. The health ministry has not released its own epidemiological findings on gyms and pools, if they exist, and the ministry of education indicated it “intends to open schools as usual” on Sep 1, even though the numbers from June would seem to provide conclusive data about the risks. In any case, no strategy is in place to prevent a second round of school epidemics. Galia Rahav, who chairs the department of infectious diseases at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, said in an interview:

What happened in schools is just too much gathering, day after day, and kids come home and infect mom and dad. The top numbers of new infections were in kids.

Due to the large number of infections among children, she noted, “the average age of an Israeli with COVID-19 has gone down to between 20 and 39,” while infections in citizens over 65 have held steady. In Jerusalem, the Israeli city with the highest rate of infection, most of the people with COVID-19 are under the age of 35. Rahav said, carefully understating the case:

It is certainly not impossible that the second wave started in schools. Discipline is at an awful level. We know Israelis have terrible discipline, but now, it’s the leadership that is completely inconstant, with one ‘leader’ saying one thing and another the contrary.


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