The haredi sector expressed outrage after the political satirical show Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Country) made fun of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of the most senior ultra-Orthodox rabbis in the country, with actors playing Kanievsky and his grandson.
The show largely focused on the government's failure to get parts of the haredi community to follow coronavirus regulations, with host Eyal Kitzis introducing "Kanievsky" as the "prime minister."
"I intended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but honestly this isn't really incorrect," said Kitzis. The host asked the actor playing Kanievsky's grandson why his grandfather hasn't issued a clear statement to close schools considering the high infection rates. The actor proceeded to ask the same question to Kanievsky in an exaggerated Ashkenazi accent, receiving a mumble in reply which he translated as "Grandfather says that's the clearest he's got."
In response to a question about why schools haven't been closed, the "grandson" repeated the question to Kanievsky and added "What does grandfather say? To call him a kofer [heretic] or a Nazi?" Kanievsky responded "Nazi," which the grandson translated as kofer. When Kitzis replied that Kanievsky said "Nazi," the grandson explained that "in Yiddish, Nazi means kofer – it's a wonderful language."Since the lockdown began, some groups in the haredi sector have refused to close educational institutions and synagogues, with classes and weddings continuing as if there was no pandemic. After public outrage at the seeming impunity that rule breakers faced, police began intensifying efforts to enforce regulations in haredi communities, sparking violent riots in multiple cities, with rioters attacking police and passersby, vandalizing public property and the light rail and in one case torching a bus after assaulting a bus driver.
Kitzis later invited the "real prime minister of Israel" to the stage, which prompted an actor playing Netanyahu to cower at the entrance and fearfully ask Kanievsky's grandson if he had permission to enter. The grandson replied that he didn't but then clarified that Kanievsky was just joking with him.
Netanyahu proceeded to enter and kiss the rabbi's hand, remaining fearful and asking the grandson before doing anything, including sitting down.
Kitzis attacked Netanyahu for refusing to close haredi communities, which he said led to the need to lockdown everyone even though the haredim remained open in any case, leading to the need for an extension to the lockdown by a week. The grandson responded, "so grandfather says we'll also extend the riots by a week."
Netanyahu proceeded to ask the grandson to ask Kanievsky if he'd be willing "just for a day or two" to respect the laws of the State of Israel. The grandson then told Kanievsky: "He's asking grandfather if we want to run with Gideon Sa'ar and that he will go to court," referencing the claim that Netanyahu won't impose the law on haredim because he needs them to remain in power. Netanyahu quickly retracted the question and said he would send a water cannon to Bnei Brak (like the ones used in riot control) that would only shoot money at them.
Kitzis additionally referenced a bill to increase the fines for violations of coronavirus restrictions that is currently stuck in the government, stressing that it was going to a committee headed by a haredi party which meant that "it was going to be buried." Netanyahu responded, "It's ok, we've buried so much this week, what's another law?"
CHAIRMAN OF the haredi Degel HaTorah Party, MK Moshe Gafni, sent a message to members of the party on Wednesday reading, "please do not comment and refer at all to the issue of Eretz Nehederet. Neither the MKs nor the assistants. May they burn in hell."
"The people of Eretz Nehederet have not only harmed the honor of Rabbi Kanievsky, but also a huge public of Masorati, religious and ultra-Orthodox people who adore Gedolei Israel," said Shas MK Moshe Arbel. "Be careful with their coal that you not burn!""If a satire program needs to think twice before it makes an imitation of a rabbi, great and respectable as he may be, we need to re-examine the level of freedom of expression in our country," said Yesh Atid MK Yoel Razvozov in response to the outrage.The producers of the program responded to the outrage, stating that "Eretz Nehederet is a satire program that deals with phenomena and leaders, from all sectors, whose actions have an impact on the fate of the country's citizens. We invite everyone to watch tonight and form an opinion for themselves," according to Maariv, The Jerusalem Post's sister publication.
SINCE THE beginning of the pandemic, a number of Israeli politicians and officials have expressed outrage that haredi communities have seemingly been able to violate coronavirus regulations with impunity, with schools, synagogues and weddings continuing in a number of communities as normal. Many have pointed the blame at Netanyahu, claiming that he is intentionally not enforcing the law on haredim in order to keep their favor and stay in power.
Haredi leaders have stressed many times that the groups violating regulations are fringe groups and that the vast majority of their sector has been following regulations. A number of prominent haredim have come out strongly against those breaking regulations and the lack of action by many haredi leaders, including ZAKA chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, who recently lost both his parents and brother to COVID-19 within one month.
Amid the recent riots, haredi politicians have instead largely tried to focus on alleged police brutality against rioters and have disrupted attempts to increase fines on those violating coronavirus regulations.
Kanievsky was infected with the coronavirus last year. While at the beginning of the most recent lockdown he implied that haredi schools should remain open, he later called on the schools to close for the first time since the pandemic began.
A number of haredi leaders have come out strongly against the riots, including Kanievsky, who warned against coming close to the "unseemliness" and stressed that the rioters were people "from outside our camp." Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef also referred to the rioters as "marginal youth from those who desecrate God's name."