Haredi resistance is the price of decades of lawlessness – analysis

When there is lawlessness over a period of decades, why would anyone assume that suddenly something would change because there is a virus?

Haredim are seen rioting in Jerusalem, with a garbage can lit ablaze to block the street. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Haredim are seen rioting in Jerusalem, with a garbage can lit ablaze to block the street.
The story is well known. After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, leaders of the ultra-Orthodox (haredi) community came to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and asked for a deferment for their youth from military service.
Ben-Gurion agreed due to two main considerations – first, he needed haredi political support, and second, he recognized that in the wake of the Holocaust, the haredi community required special attention.
But what began with just 400 deferments soon ballooned out of control, and by the mid-1990s, the number of exemptions reached 25,000. Today, it is over 60,000, although exemption from military service is not the only challenge when it comes to the haredim.
Only about 50% of haredi men are employed, in contrast to 87% of non-haredi men. Conversely, it is important to note that 76% of haredi women go out to work, a rise of some 5% in recent years.
But the average wage among haredim who go to work is very low, and this is also reflected in the amount of national and municipal taxes the community pays into the state or city’s coffers. And due to the low standard of living, the state provides large welfare subsidies to the community. Some 55% of ultra-Orthodox children, for example, live below the poverty line, compared with just 9% of other Jewish kids.
There is also the issue of law enforcement within the community. Incidents in which secular Israelis are verbally or even physically attacked when walking through neighborhoods such as Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim are numerous.
On Sunday, Jerusalem Post reporter Jeremy Sharon and chief photographer Marc Israel Sellem were assaulted when trying to report on events in Mea She’arim. One policeman recalled recently how on almost every patrol through the neighborhood, his car was pelted with eggs, and sometimes even concrete blocks.
All of this is important to understand why there is so little adherence to coronavirus regulations among the haredi community, why many haredim refuse to wear masks and to social distance. As they continue to live their lives in defiance of the rules, they also continue to gather in large numbers in synagogues, yeshivas and at weddings.
The bottom line is that they simply feel as if the laws of the state do not apply to them, that they live in a place where they can make their own rules as an autonomous entity within the state.
But this defiance is not exclusive to the haredim. The same, unfortunately, applies to the Bedouin in the South and Arabs in east Jerusalem. In both cases, these sectors at times also behave as if they are above the law, and in the same way that the police are hesitant to enter into the narrow alleyways of Mea She’arim, they think long and hard before venturing into Shuafat or Hura. Illegal construction, seizure of land, failure to pay property tax all slide by due to lax law enforcement in these areas.
When authorities turn a blind eye to lawlessness over decades, why would anyone assume that suddenly, something will change because a virus has descended on the population?
For there to be greater cooperation among Israel’s minorities in the fight against COVID-19, they must be made to feel that they are an active and genuine partner in the country, and if they don’t feel that way, they need to be helped to feel that way. And if they can’t be helped to feel that way, they need to be forced to through strict and tough policing that enforces even the most negligible traffic violation.
Looking back to the beginning of the pandemic, the writing was on the wall. It was clear that this social breakdown would occur.
Things can change, but for that, the state needs to invest heavily in resources and police funding, change its policy and ensure law and order is imposed in the parts of this country that currently look and feel as if they are in the Wild West.
For now, we will all continue to pay a heavy price.