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News Brief: Prime Minister Netanyahu Ousted, NATO Summit, COVID Deaths

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For the first time in 12 years, Israelis woke up today with a prime minister who is not Benjamin Netanyahu.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Israel's parliament, the Knesset, upheld a new coalition government by a single vote. The prime minister is Naftali Bennett. And those who support the change celebrated last night at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF HONKING, CHEERING)

MCCAMMON: Bennett describes himself as more right-wing than Netanyahu. He was once an aide to the former prime minister. But he represents a unity coalition that includes centrist, leftist and Arab parties.

INSKEEP: Just about everybody who wanted Netanyahu out got together to do that, barely.

NPR's Deborah Amos joins us now from Jerusalem. Hey there, Deb.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

INSKEEP: So we heard some of the celebrations. But I gather Netanyahu would not be celebrating. What did you hear from the incoming and outgoing prime ministers?

AMOS: So we watched the speeches yesterday. I'm going to start with Bennett, the incoming prime minister. He was loudly heckled by politicians who lost their job. He talked about the madness of the recent past, the divisiveness, the hatred. We stop before the abyss, he said. And he promised to bring the country to normal after the Netanyahu era.

Netanyahu's speech was fiery and bitter. He was ousted, in part, by men who had been his allies, men who know him best. Bennett was his chief of staff before he was fired. He made his case again that he's Israel's indispensable leader. He charged, the new coalition was too weak to stand up to Iran, the Palestinians and to the Americans. And he vowed, we will be back.

The most interesting guy to watch was Yair Lapid. He put the winning coalition together. He had the most votes. But he allowed Bennett the first turn as prime minister. He'll come in two years, if the government lasts that long. He didn't take his turn to speak. He said the heckling was too loud. His mother would be ashamed. But that kept the spotlight on Bennett. And when he was asked about Netanyahu, he quoted Shakespeare's Mark Antony. "I came to bury Caesar, not to praise him."

INSKEEP: Well, you just mentioned two of the many figures in this coalition, a self-described very right-wing figure, Lapid, who is more of a centrist. There're leftists in this coalition. What do they want to accomplish together?

AMOS: Well, a couple of things - first on the agenda is to pass term limits for eight years. And that is aimed at Netanyahu. There's still some disagreement about, does it - is it retroactive? We'll see. But they have to pass a budget. There hasn't been one since 2019. And by law, they have three months to do it. If they don't, then, you know, they explode, and they all lose their posts. So this government is not expected to make controversial moves.

You know, you have to find things that have support from the left, the right, the center and the Arab party that is now in the coalition. Bennett is known as a pragmatist. You know, he's an entrepreneur in the tech sector. He does have a hard-line track record. But he has got to compromise to survive.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing about his first conversation with President Biden, the most important Israeli ally?

AMOS: Called him right away - and, you know, what was striking about that is he did not call Benjamin Netanyahu, who was the sitting prime minister when he came into office, for many days. And everybody from the State Department, the Defense Department - they all called their counterparts. So that was a big support. They also got calls from European leaders and from Canada.

INSKEEP: Deb, what are you hearing from Palestinians both inside the formal borders of Israel and in the occupied territories?

AMOS: You know, there are Israeli Palestinians. They live inside Israel. There are those in the West Bank and Gaza. They say - their leaders say that we will see no change from the Netanyahu era, that Bennett's position on a Palestinian state is even to the right of Netanyahu. However, he is in a coalition where there are people who want a two-state solution.

INSKEEP: NPR's Deborah Amos is in Jerusalem. Deb, always a pleasure talking with you.

AMOS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: President Biden is in Brussels this morning.

MCCAMMON: He is meeting with leaders of other NATO allies. And he's working to reset an alliance that was strained under former President Trump. The allies face challenges from Russia, from cyberattacks and from a far more assertive China.

INSKEEP: All of which NPR's London correspondent, Frank Langfitt, is covering - Frank, welcome.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How much of a difference is it, from NATO's perspective, from one U.S. president to another?

LANGFITT: It's night and day. Steve, if you remember, Donald Trump complained about NATO members not spending enough on defense. He wasn't honestly wrong about that. But it was very aggressive in the way that he talked about it and also suggested that if these members didn't pay up, actually, America might not come to their defense at all, which is - whole idea of NATO.

Biden is so different. He's a traditional supporter of this transatlantic relationship with Europe. But he does think that America's priorities do need to change. And that's what he's going to be talking to NATO members about today.

INSKEEP: I'm glad you mentioned that Trump wasn't wrong about that. It was actually a complaint that former President Obama had about NATO. He just phrased it differently. So now we have Joe Biden in there. What does the new president want from NATO?

LANGFITT: I think he wants to see NATO really modernize. You know, you've got to remember this was created more than 70 years ago during the Cold War to deter Soviet aggression. Russia's still very much a threat, especially since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. But it's such a different world now. And I think that NATO has always had to evolve and has always - needs to sort of stay relevant.

I think what Biden would like to see is NATO looking at challenges like climate change, which can destabilize regions with lots of migration, also cyberdefense and - which NATO has been putting more and more energy into - and then I think China, which - you know, Biden was saying this during the G-7 summit over in Cornwall, that he does increasingly see the world as this contest between autocracies and democracies like the NATO members. And the question to him is, will the democracies succeed and endure?

INSKEEP: What capabilities does NATO have to deal with those newer threats?

LANGFITT: This is really interesting and kind of challenging. You know, NATO was built to operate in Europe. It has evolved to some degree. It's deployed in Afghanistan and Libya. But a place like China, the South China Sea, Taiwan - this is so much further away. And, you know, if you look at NATO's navies, the two largest beyond America's, which is, you know, obviously huge by comparison, are just Britain and France. And it's hard for them to project force thousands of miles away.

So I think what you're going to see, what Biden would like to see is NATO pick up more defense in its neighborhood regarding Russia and other instability here in Europe so that the U.S. can focus more on Asia. And then I think cybersecurity is really crucial, as we've seen with ransomware attacks and also interference in elections. I think Biden would love to see NATO do increasingly more on that.

INSKEEP: What did you hear over the weekend from another meeting, the world's seven largest economies? So there's some overlap here with the NATO allies but different players, as well. What did they come up with?

LANGFITT: I think one thing is they're going to give 870 million doses of coronavirus vaccines to the world, which is progress but a drop in the bucket to what the world needs. And also, there was a lot of talk about China, as well, and calling them out on human rights violations, things along those lines.

INSKEEP: Frank, thanks for your reporting.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: We are about to hit another pandemic milestone.

MCCAMMON: Nearly 600,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States. The death rate has slowed dramatically along with the number of new cases. But even as many Americans resume normal life, people do continue to die.

INSKEEP: NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us, as she does most Mondays. Hey there, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I just want to note this. The world feels different to a lot of Americans because they're vaccinated. They feel they're stepping out again. But we continue to have thousands and thousands of people die. Six hundred thousand is considerably more than the population of Milwaukee, just to pick a city. What's that say about where we are?

AUBREY: Well, I mean, the pandemic is easing up. As things return to normal, it's just easy to lose sight of the fact that it's not completely over. The U.S. is still losing about 375 people a day. That's a huge drop from the few thousand deaths a day in the winter. But it's a reminder of how deadly the virus can be and of the importance of this push for vaccination. As of today, about 64% of adults in the U.S. have gotten at least their first dose. And it's clear that getting more people vaccinated as soon as possible is so important.

INSKEEP: Now, I want to follow up on something that you've been looking into. This is not a disease that I would have expected to be worrying about during the pandemic. But people are. It's a word that I think a lot of us pronounce as tin-NI-tus (ph), but I guess TIN-nitus (ph) is the formal way to pronounce it - ringing in the ears. What did you find?

AUBREY: You know, tinnitus is basically the perception of ringing in the ear when no external noise is actually there. Some people describe the sound as a buzzing or even a cricket- or cicada-like sound. The CDC estimates that about 15% of people experience some form of tinnitus. An estimated 20 million people have chronic cases. Now, survey research during the pandemic found that among people who already had tinnitus, many reported that it got worse. In general, people who were lonely, who were isolated or stressed had more bothersome ringing in the years.

INSKEEP: Is it caused by stress?

AUBREY: Well, the onset of tinnitus can be linked to a bunch of things. Hearing loss is one. It can come on after a head or neck injury. The survey found some people develop tinnitus after a COVID infection. It's often hard to pinpoint the catalyst. That was the case for Elizabeth Fraser (ph), who developed it last year. And she quickly learned that stress, Steve, can heighten the intensity of the ringing in her ears.

ELIZABETH FRASER: Mine just is, like, this high-pitched sonic sound. When it first started, I was mostly distressed and panicked. I was bewildered. Where did this come from? What have I done wrong?

AUBREY: It was as if the ringing was the only thing she could focus on. And it was really driving her mad.

INSKEEP: That sounds almost cruel. What did she do?

AUBREY: Well, she found a program online called Mindfulness Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction. Now, it's based on research done at the University of California, San Francisco. And it doesn't take away the ringing, but it teaches people to be less bothered by it. Elizabeth Fraser told me that learning these skills helped her immensely.

FRASER: I immediately felt better. I was practicing deep breathing. And that was helping me get to sleep.

AUBREY: Typically, when people are busy, they notice the ringing less. They're in the flow. They have plenty of distractions. But at night when it's quiet, it can be more bothersome. She uses a white-noise app, plays the sound of falling rain, which can be relaxing and masks that sound in her head, Steve.

INSKEEP: One more problem that many people have been dealing with and maybe the rest of us didn't realize at all. Allison, thanks very much for your reporting - really appreciate it.

AUBREY: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Allison Aubrey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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