Local mayors demand equal enforcement of lockdown

This means that these mayors would stop the work of about 2,500 municipal inspectors.

A Jerusalem shwarma restauraunt is seen open for deliveries only amid the third coronavirus lockdown, on December 31, 2020. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A Jerusalem shwarma restauraunt is seen open for deliveries only amid the third coronavirus lockdown, on December 31, 2020.
The majority of mainstream ultra-Orthodox schools remained shut on Sunday morning following instructions from the senior rabbinic leadership to comply with the new government-mandated COVID-19 lockdown, as mayors from around the country watched closely to see if the authorities would hold schools in this sector to the same standards as other schools.
Schools in the non-hassidic “Lithuanian” ultra-Orthodox sector did not open their doors in adherence to the instructions of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, while schools of the major hassidic communities also stayed shut.
During the second COVID lockdown, the school networks in many of the mainstream ultra-Orthodox communities remained open in accordance with the instructions of their rabbis although the regulations required all schools to be closed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally lobbied the leading rabbis last week to comply with the new lockdown measures, efforts which have borne fruit, at least in the short term.
However, some extremist communities did open their schools on Sunday. Channel 12 News reported that Satmar educational institutions were open in Jerusalem, while school-aged children were photographed going to school in the ultra-Orthodox city of Beitar Illit.
A school associated with the extremist Jerusalem Faction, with dozens of pupils present, opened in the ultra-Orthodox city of Modi’in Illit. When police arrived to shut it down extremists confronted the police, damaged police vehicles, tried to block roads, and also attacked journalists at the site. Five people were arrested during the incident.
Haim Bibas, the mayor of Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut and head of the Federation of Local Authorities, expressed the resentment that many outside the ultra-Orthodox community have felt in light of the noncompliance of haredi schools in previous lockdowns and said that the local authorities will behave exactly as the ultra-Orthodox do this time.
He tweeted Sunday that if there is not equal enforcement of the lockdown for all sectors, mayors will “shut down” the lockdown enforcement in their municipalities.
This means that these mayors would stop the work of about 2,500 municipal inspectors.
Bibas wrote that “If there is a lockdown – then lock down for everyone. This is the only way will we get out of it together!
“Today at the board meeting of local government we agreed unanimously – equal enforcement for all,” he said. “If you turn a blind eye to enforcement – we will also shut down the corona enforcement system. This must be the last closure!”
Medical authorities have complained that the politicians have hampered their efforts to reign in the virus in the ultra-Orthodox community, which has a high rate of infection.
In an interview on the television newsmagazine Uvda (Fact) in late December, former coronavirus commissioner and head of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, complained that government officials were “cowards” who thwarted his attempts to crack down on defiance of regulations in the red cities in the previous lockdown, many of which were ultra-Orthodox, out of political considerations.
He said in the interview that if he had been able to enforce compliance in this community, it might have been possible to avoid the current and previous lockdown. Some ultra-Orthodox leaders called for his ouster and he was replaced in November by the current coronavirus commissioner, Prof. Nachman Ash. Gamzu.
Bibas was recently offered a spot on the Likud list in the upcoming national elections at the end of March but declined.
The tweet is a not-so-veiled threat to the government and police about equal enforcement of the closure in the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector, where the rate of coronavirus infection is particularly high.
In the previous lockdown, which began in September, many ultra-Orthodox authorities simply kept their school systems going, even as the rest of the country locked down. In recent days, there were negotiations among various ultra-Orthodox authorities and representatives of the government as to whether they would agree to follow the government rulings on closing the schools.
In the third lockdown, before the regulations on closing schools took effect on Thursday night at midnight, Kanievsky, the most senior rabbinic leader of the Ashkenazi non-hassidic ultra-Orthodox community, told his followers to close schools and yeshivas “for several days,” after a conversation with Netanyahu.
During the second lockdown, Kanievsky told school principals who asked him what to do, to keep their schools open. The rabbi’s position led to an unprecedented situation in which tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of families defied the government and the law and sent their children to school despite the national lockdown.