News Digest — 3/26/20

Rivlin Tells Netanyahu And Gantz To Unite Amid Pandemic Crisis

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin addressed the nation Wednesday evening (25th) admonishing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Benny Gantz to unite as the country faces an unprecedented health and economic crisis from the coronavirus pandemic.

“I appeal to you from here, leaders of the main parties, to find a way to present a shared leadership, a responsible leadership, for Israeli society in its time of crisis,” Rivlin said.

The former member of Knesset for the Likud Party who served under Netanyahu as a cabinet minister spoke calmly but firmly, chastising both sides for feuding in the parliament while the pandemic paralyzed Israel’s economy and threatened to overwhelm the healthcare system.

“Each side must understand the other’s red lines and be flexible on them – and understand we simply do not have an alternative.  Join together for the good of the Israeli people,” he added.

“If not now, when?” Rivlin asked, quoting from the Jewish sage Hillel.  The president has brokered several meetings between the two leaders, urging them to form a government of national unity to confront the epidemic.

Rivlin, who serves as titular head of state and holds no political power, is popular with the public and is known for his strong views on democracy and the rule of law.  He called on the political adversaries to focus on the exponentially growing crisis, “at a time when in the State of Israel, we are burying our dead simply, holding weddings without guests, closing seminaries, synagogues, schools and universities, in these moments of crisis we must all learn obedience.”

“Have at the forefront of your minds the terrible disease that is assaulting us and is claiming the lives of our loved ones, and damaging Israel’s economy,” he pleaded.

Netanyahu has been leading an interim government for more than a year as a result of three consecutive national elections that left no clear winner.  Both Netanyahu and Gantz, so far, have not been able to come together amiably to form a government while the coronavirus epidemic continues to spread in Israel.     



Netanyahu: Complete Lockdown If Numbers Do Not Improve

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday evening (25th) that if there is no decline in the number of new coronavirus cases in the next few days, there will be no choice but to impose a complete closure on the civilian population in Israel.

“Citizens of Israel, you know the following phrase: ‘He who saves one life, it is as if he saved an entire world.’  With the coronavirus it has a different meaning. “He who infects one person, it is as if he infected the entire world,” Netanyahu said.

“The steps we have taken here in Israel are taking place all over the world, but it is not enough, for the number of patients doubles every two or three days.  In two weeks we may find ourselves with thousands of patients, many of whom will be at risk of death. So, I must tell you already, if we do not see an immediate improvement in the trend – there will be no escape from imposing a complete closure, except for essential necessities such as food and medicine.  It is a matter of a few days – then we will make preparations for it both logistical and legal,” he warned.

Addressing the Israeli citizens, Netanyahu said, “I say this most clearly: You must stay at home.  Stay at home – stay alive. Everyone has to obey, no exceptions. And you must be very cautious with your safety.  What it takes for anyone to obey is strict self-discipline. If you do not mobilize to look after yourselves and your families,  there will be a disaster here. Do not leave home, stay inside your house and follow the guidelines. These are not trifles, but matters of life and death.”

Meanwhile Thursday morning (26th), the number of cases reported in Israel are up to 2,495, including 41 in serious condition.  Wednesday morning (25th) the number of cases reported were 2.030.



Israelis Coming From US, Italy, France, Spain To Be Tested For Virus Upon Return

Anyone returning from four coronavirus hotspots will be tested for the disease immediately upon landing in Israel and may be quarantined away from home for two weeks the Defense Ministry said on Wednesday (25th).  

The ministry said the rule, to go into effect Saturday night (28th), would apply to all travelers from the US, Italy, France and Spain, four countries that have seen a massive uptick in cases of the virus in recent days.

If Israeli returnees test negative, they will be released to complete their 14-day quarantine at home.  If they test positive, a decision will be made where to put them, depending on the extent of their symptoms.

The Israel Defense Forces are working to convert hotels into quarantine facilities before the program begins Saturday night (28th).

Israel announced earlier this month that only Israeli citizens and residents were permitted to enter the country in light of the virus.  In recent days, the Foreign Ministry has been working to bring home Israelis who are still abroad.

Up to 10,000 Israelis are currently abroad and seeking to return home, Israeli officials estimated this week, amid growing concerns that the widening coronavirus pandemic may make their return exceedingly difficult or even impossible as countries shut down their land and air borders.

On Tuesday (24th) the Foreign Ministry said it would send an El Al plane to Colombia to bring back some 150 Israeli backpackers stranded in the South American country.

The flight was set to depart for Bogota at 10: p.m. Wednesday (25th), according to a Ministry statement.

Flights were also planned this week to bring back travelers from India and Hungary.

Last week the Foreign Ministry organized four flights from Lima, Peru, bringing home more than 1,000 Israelis on four El Al 787 Dreamliners.  These flights – the longest ever by an Israeli airline – were free of charge for the backpackers, as the costs were footed by various sponsors.  



COGAT Delivers 3,000 Coronavirus Test Kits, 50,000 Masks To PA

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) reported on Wednesday (25th) that over 3,000 coronavirus test kits and 50,000 masks were delivered to the Palestinian Authority’s health system to offer residents aid in the fight against the deadly virus.

The medical gear was donated by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the use of medical teams working in the PA territories in the West Bank.  COGAT coordinated the entry of the kits and equipment from Jordan through the Allenby Bridge Crossing.

“Once more COGAT is cooperating closely with the World Health Organization to make assistance possible in the Palestinian Authority’s struggle against the coronavirus outbreak,” said Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Kamil Abu Rukun.  “I commend the teamwork of the international organizations in this important shared endeavor, I wish steady good health to all the residents of the region, and I hope that we will continue to work together in the fight to halt the spread of this dangerous virus.”

The Palestinian Authority has reported 64 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.  One Palestinian has died after being infected.



Lawrence Bacow, Harvard’s Jewish President, Has Coronavirus

Harvard University president Lawrence Bacow and his wife Adele Fleet Bacow have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Bacow, the third Jewish president of the Ivy League university, announced the news Tuesday (24th) in a letter to the school’s community.

Bacow, whose mother was a Holocaust survivor, wrote in the letter that the virus can “lay anyone low” and urged the community to be vigilant and follow the guidelines to limit contact with others.

“The world needs your courage, creativity and intelligence to beat the virus – wishing each of you good health,” he concluded.

Bacow said he and his wife did not know when they contracted the disease but began experiencing symptoms Sunday (22nd) – coughs, fevers, chills and muscle aches – and contacted their physicians Monday morning (23rd).  They were tested that same day and received results on Tuesday (24th), according to the letter.

The couple had been working from home and limiting their contact since March 14, following the recommendations for social distancing, the letter said.  Now they will isolate entirely, for two weeks. 

A total of 18 members of the Harvard community have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the school.

Like many colleges and universities, Harvard has sent students home, brought classes online and canceled graduation because of the pandemic.