Fifteen years ago it took the IDF about a week to completely uproot any Jewish presence in the Gaza Strip. Some 9,000 Jewish residents, and 21 settlements, were evacuated in a well-planned and efficiently executed IDF operation whose motto was “sensitivity and determination.”
The nation had spoken, government officials said at the time, explaining the rationale for deploying soldiers to uproot law-abiding citizens from their homes. The government decided, the cabinet voted, the Knesset approved and legislated, and it was then left to the IDF to carry it out.
And the IDF would carry out the plan despite intense opposition and all the pain and trauma involved, these officials explained, because if a legally elected government cannot carry out decisions it is legitimately empowered to make, then it is just an empty shell.
Society can only function when legitimate governments are able to carry out their decisions. One message that the disengagement sent is that when the Israeli government makes a decision that then gets the imprimatur of the Knesset, it will carry it out, regardless of how difficult.
And what was true for Netzarim and Neveh Dekalim in 2005 should be true for Bnei Brak and Beitar Illit when it comes to following the COVID-19 laws of the land today.
This does not mean that the IDF should send troops to Rabbi Akiva Street in Bnei Brak tomorrow to ensure that the haredi schools and yeshivot are closed there like schools are closed everywhere else in the country. It does mean, however, that the same determination – and the same sensitivity – needs to be used in getting that part of the haredi community not complying with the laws of the land to do so, as was used to get the Gush Katif residents to comply with the state’s statutes that upended their lives.
The “sensitivity” part of the equation could be expressed by not sending the police in the morning to close down the schools and physically expel teachers and their pupils in mid-lesson, but rather by continuing to dialogue with the rabbinic authorities to get them to convince their followers that they need to follow the rules. To the greatest extent possible, you want to use persuasion to avoid ugly confrontations and the dreadful pictures of Israeli police closing down Torah academies.
But if that does not work, then the “determination” part of the equation should kick in. This could be displayed by going, at the end of the school day, to the homes of those running the schools and teaching in them and presenting them with hefty fines that may convince them that this thumbing their nose at the law is simply not worth their while.
And if that does not work, and the schools are opened again the next day, then the same knock on the door should take place for a second time, this time, perhaps, with heavier fines and even arrests. And if that does not work, then the government should begin drafting legislation to defund schools that do not follow the regulations.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has boasted on a number of occasions that various countries are watching how Israel is dealing with the crisis, may want to look at how New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is dealing with the reticence of some haredim in his state to follow the coronavirus regulations.
Last week, he said yeshivot in New York’s hardest-hit COVID-19 zones that do not comply with orders to shut down risk losing their funding.
“If schools are operating, it’s easy enough to find out,” Cuomo said. “The schools that have been identified as violating the closure order, they will be served today with a notice mandating they close, and we are withholding funding from those schools. I guarantee if a yeshiva gets closed down and they’re not going to get state funding, you will see compliance.”
Cuomo struck again Saturday when, after the state caught wind that the Satmar Hassidim were planning to hold a wedding for the Satmar Rebbe’s grandson in Williamsburg to be attended by some 10,000 people, he issued a special order to ban the event.
Cuomo gave a press conference on Saturday saying, “You can get married; you just can’t get 1,000 people at your wedding.”
Are steps like those tough, mean and unaesthetic? Yes, but so was the disengagement from Gush Katif – yet the government went ahead and carried it out because it was the law of the land.
In order to avoid a repeat of the mistakes made during the exit from the last lockdown, the government needs to reassert its authority, and do so – as it did with the Gaza withdrawal – with determination and sensitivity.
The state cannot abide a situation where one sector – as large and as politically powerful as it may be – simply ignores the law and does what it wants. That spells the end of the social contract binding all segments of the nation.
Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman was roundly criticized last month – justifiably – for saying that the country’s regulations did not make sense and everyone should just do what they saw fit.
That, according to his critics – including President Reuven Rivlin – was a recipe for anarchy. How ironic that it is precisely segments of the haredi community – a community Liberman campaigns strongly against – who are seemingly acting according to his instructions.
But those instructions are shortsighted. No segment of the population can be allowed – on matters that impact upon the whole country – to do whatever it wants, because that would place the country on a slippery slope toward the abyss.
Today, the haredi community will be exempt from heeding the corona regulations because it clashes with one of its supreme values: communal Torah study and prayer. Tomorrow, the followers of Peace Now will have justification for not following the state’s laws about serving in the territories because this runs contrary to their world view. And the day after, the settlers will have ample reason to disregard the government concerning settlement building and build wherever and whenever they like because that is what their world view dictates.
Israel is made up of many sectors that have different supreme values. But each of those sectors shares the same state, and as such, sometimes those supreme values need to bend for the good of the collective. Now is one of those times. And if this is not done on a voluntary basis, then the state must impose its will – with sensitivity, but also with determination.