On October 18, The Washington Post published a detailed story describing the trials and tribulations of life in Israel during the country’s second lockdown. Yet, while the piece is exhaustively researched and packs an emotional punch, it neglects to present an accurate picture of the effectiveness of the nationwide closure – in terms of its success in dramatically reducing the number of daily infections as well as the overall morbidity rate – until nearly the end of the article.
As a result, many readers who did not read the entire piece — and even those who did — are liable to come away with the impression that the lockdown served only to deepen societal divisions, rather than curb a severe crisis that had threatened to overwhelm Israel’s healthcare system.
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Lockdown ‘Not Going So Well’
Written by Steve Hendrix and Ruth Eglash, the article’s headline sets a grim tone:
Instead of focusing on bottom line results, the piece depicts the strict regulations imposed by the Israeli government beginning September 18 as confusing, contradictory, and even harmful to some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens. It also suggests that segments of the population flouted the restrictions without consequence:
Whole neighborhoods and towns have openly ignored rules against gatherings at synagogues, weddings and funerals, particularly in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox religious communities. With workplaces and schools shut, parks are filled with families and exercise groups. Social media is rife with stories of citizens of all stripes blowing through the official 1,000-meter limit on trips from home, with many couching visits to friends or family as permitted grocery runs.
While it is true that various sectors, including small business owners, have pushed back against the government, there is little nuance in the article.
For example, the shutdown was imposed during the Jewish High Holidays creating a near-unprecedented situation in which Orthodox Jews were required to forego many of the practices that define their existence. The closure also had a negative though anticipated effect on the economy, with some 260,000 Israelis filing for unemployment over the past five weeks.
But rather than highlight the complexities of Israeli society – scenarios not unique to the Jewish state – the story papers over very real dilemmas and, in one instance, attributes Israelis’ supposed defiance to not wanting to be viewed as fools:
“A major part of the Israeli character is not to be a ‘freier,’?” a Hebrew word loosely translated as “sucker,” said Dan Ben-David, a professor at Tel Aviv University and president of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research, which is tracking the public response. “These guys [the ultra-Orthodox] are ignoring it, so why shouldn’t we?”
Israel’s Invisible Exit From Its Second Lockdown
Then, without sufficiently describing how far Israel has come in a remarkably short period of time, this paragraph is casually worked into the tail end of the piece:
As infection rates have drifted down toward target levels of 2,000 new cases a day, Israel began lifting some of the restrictions Sunday. Preschools were allowed to reopen in the face of objections from teachers unions, and people could travel freely and gather in groups of up to 10 indoors and 20 outside.
Readers who stopped short of this paragraph would have missed the fact that Israel is actually in the process of exiting its second lockdown. As of October 19, the number of active cases stood at 29,597, dropping below 30,000 for the first time since September 8.
Indeed, Israel’s battle against COVID-19, while not perfectly executed, is showing extraordinary results. At one point, authorities were registering over 9,000 daily infections, a figure that has now dropped to less than 1,500. Similarly, the percentage of people testing positive for the virus is at its lowest level in about four months.
These developments are especially newsworthy at a time when several governments around the world – including in nations such as Britain and France – are seriously considering imposing second national lockdowns.
Related Reading: Protecting Israelis With Disabilities From COVID-19
The Washington Post: Missing the Forest For the Trees
The Washington Post deserves credit for accurately describing the challenges faced by Israelis as a result of the global pandemic. However, the piece veers off course by portraying Israel’s closure in one light: that is, as “not going so well.”
Objectively, this is simply wrong.
Moreover, the eight-stage exit plan from the lockdown the government is currently introducing may well become an enviable template for countries now contending with a “second wave” of COVID-19.
Far from being a cautionary tale of failure, Israel is a case study for the world of what is yet to come, and how to deal with it successfully.
How did The Washington Post get the story so completely backwards?
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