Coronavirus divides Jerusalem

... And that's a smart thing.

Lockdown on some Jerusalem neighborhoods begins in effort to stop coronavirus spread, April 12, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Lockdown on some Jerusalem neighborhoods begins in effort to stop coronavirus spread, April 12, 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The coronavirus succeeded in doing something that world pressure, Arab demands and Palestinian terrorism have been unable to do for the last 53 years: divide Jerusalem.
But it divided Jerusalem not along an east-west axis, not along the lines of Jewish and Muslim neighborhoods, rather along the lines of where the coronavirus is running rampant and where it is spreading less rapidly.
Late Saturday night, a ministerial committee decided to lock down – effective noon Sunday – 17 of the Jerusalem neighborhoods worst hit by the virus. And it just so happened that 12 of those 17 neighborhoods are haredi (ultra-orthodox) neighborhoods, and five of them have a mixed haredi-general population.
In these neighborhoods – except for certain work, health and familial exceptions – there will be no entrance and no exit until Wednesday morning. A thousand policemen will stand guard at the gates of these neighborhoods to ensure abidance by the regulations. Bnei Brak meets Mea She'arim.
Jerusalem, the undivided capital of the State of Israel, is undivided no more.
And not everyone is happy.
The first among the unhappy is Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, who says it makes no sense to lock down a mixed neighborhood like Ramot, where there are 130 cases of confirmed coronavirus out of a population of 60,000. The Health Ministry's response was this neighborhood is on the list because there is more than one person infected with the virus per 1,000, and that is the measuring stick.
And even angrier were the country's leading haredi politicians.
Interior Minister Arye Deri, who lives in Har Nof – one of the closed-down neighborhoods -- reportedly said at a stormy cabinet discussion on the matter on Thursday that the government was “fast on the trigger” when it came to shutting down entire haredi communities.
Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, who also lives in a neighborhood under clampdown, warned against stigmatizing entire communities, saying the government must not close down neighborhoods as a result of the makeup of its population, but because of objective criteria.
“Using the definition that movement needs to be limited only in haredi areas is misguided and defames an entire segment of the population that listens to the law and the rabbis,” he said.
And UTJ politician Moshe Gafni said the move bordered on the “scandalous,” and that it was destroying public trust in the decision-makers, a commodity badly needed when managing a crisis of this magnitude, and asking significant sacrifices from the population.
In the view of the haredi politicians, the decision to focus on the haredi neighborhoods is somehow akin to collective punishment.
Except that it isn't.
Israel is not punishing, nor blaming, the haredim (though some public individuals have regrettably done so, and have been rightfully criticized for that). What the government is doing is taking the information that it has and, to the best of its ability in fighting an unseen enemy whose behavior cannot entirely be predicted, making what it believes are the best defensive decisions possible.
Quarantining coronavirus hot spots to keep the virus from spreading to other areas with a lower infection rate has been deemed an effective way to stem the spread of the virus. It is not aimed at punishing haredim.
Litzman, the head of the Health Ministry whose officials are drawing up these guidelines, surely understands this, and should use his stature as a haredi government minister to explain that to his community. As should Deri.
There are objective reasons that led to the virus spreading rapidly in some haredi communities, among them crowded living conditions, the communal nature of religious life and the delay it took some haredi rabbis and community leaders to appreciate the danger of the virus and get their communities to heed the Health Ministry regulations.
One fact about the spread of the virus in Israel is that it has hit the haredi communities the hardest. According to Health Ministry statistics, areas with large concentrations of haredim are the worst hit by the pandemic. For instance, in Bnei Brak, 84 out of every 10,000 people are infected; in Kochav Ya’acov that number stands at 49; 48 in Elad.
In Jerusalem's predominantly haredi neighborhoods, 72 out of 10,000 are sick in Har Nof; 52 in the city’s northern haredi neighborhoods; nearly 50 in Ramat Shlomo and 48 in Givat Mordechai.
Haredi neighborhoods are not being quarantined because they are haredi neighborhoods, rather because these neighborhoods have been hit the hardest. It's not a punishment, it's wise public health policy and a preventive measure for the public good.
The country's haredi politicians should be spreading that message.