Opinion |

Israeli Media Would Love for There to Be Another COVID Lockdown

Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher
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Channel 12 News anchor Yonit Levi.
Channel 12 News anchor Yonit Levi.Credit: Hadas Parush
Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher

It seems that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has made the brave, correct decision: He won’t impose a lockdown. As he wrote in his seminal Facebook post Saturday night, in which for the first time he explained his pandemic strategy simply, clearly, and fluently, the effectiveness of the lockdowns“ is low in any case” and their price “terrible.” But Israeli media outlets, especially three of the major media outlets – Channels 12 and 13 and the daily Yedioth Ahronoth – are still in a lockdown frenzy.

Sometimes the mass brainwashing in support of a lockdown is carried out through a process of elimination: The commentators and reporters refrain from claiming that a lockdown is the solution, but generate extreme panic over its absence and stress that any alternative is tantamount to abandoning the citizens of the state to their deaths.

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As journalist Nadav Eyal tweeted August 11: “The late Amnon Dankner would quote from a sketch or feuilleton ... ‘The IDF spokesman announces: It’s every man for himself.’ I recalled that today.” A word to the wise is sufficient. And the first wise man commented: “My wife and I are seriously considering a lockdown for us and our children.” Eyal didn’t say one word about a lockdown, right? When this hysterical mood is welded to the fear that Bennett still lacks leadership experience, we get a situation in which lockdowns may be a longing for Benjamin Netanyahu.

Fortunately, it seems as if the massive TV scare campaign failed to meet its secondary goal (a new lockdown) and met its primary goal (ratings). Last week it still seemed likely to put so much pressure on Bennett that his opposition on principle would break, and he would be forced into declaring a lockdown against his will, thus destroying the country but saving his political career. In other words, it would turn him into the former prime minister, who put his personal considerations above the common good.

In that sense too, lockdowns may be a longing for Netanyahu. The television stations tried to train Bennett to act like his predecessor. A lockdown would also give them a PR victory, as it would demonstrate their tremendous power to shape the contours of Israeli life and give the impression that they are in effect managing the pandemic and have a symbiotic relationship with the government. Just as in the Netanyahu era, when their cameras were trained on him almost daily at prime time, and he was television's biggest star.

There was a struggle here between Bennett and the news shows: He tried to change the rules of the game, and they tried, through their reactionary behavior, to keep the ones they had created with Netanyahu. The rules in which they, in synergy with him, ruled the country (despite his absurd claims that they conspired with the State Prosecutor’s Office against him).

It goes without saying that if the television stations end up getting their wish for a lockdown during the Jewish holidays in September, the commentators and reporters who pushed for it will be exempted from it. They’re busy whipping up support for a lockdown from the position of those who have a waiver. They observe the lockdown the way they observe the war in Kabul.

In a lockdown, the livelihoods of Nadav Eyal, Amit Segal, Amalia Duek, Yonit Levi, Tamar Ish-Shalom, Keren Marciano, Daphna Liel, Gabi Barbash, Akiva Novick and their colleagues are not in danger. In a lockdown they are permitted, as essential workers, to go out to work as usual, without any restriction on their freedom of movement and occupation. Their work gives them license not to participate in the human clinical trial known as lockdown, but rather to conduct it. A lockdown is for viewers, who stay at home and watch the news on television, in order to find out when they’ll be released from house arrest.

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