Hebrew U prof. defends cry that ‘ultra-Orthodox are spreading coronavirus’

Israeli chemist Prof. Amiram Goldblum posted on Facebook that some ultra-Orthodox towns, as well as large neighborhoods in Ashdod and Jerusalem, “should be put under quarantine”

Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman arrives for a situation assessment meeting regarding the novel coronavirus, at the Health Ministry in Tel Aviv, Israel February 23, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/JACK GUEZ)
Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman arrives for a situation assessment meeting regarding the novel coronavirus, at the Health Ministry in Tel Aviv, Israel February 23, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/JACK GUEZ)
A Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor on Tuesday said he defends his statement that haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews are spreading the coronavirus around Israel and that the Health Ministry under the auspices of Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman is turning a blind eye.
Earlier this week, Prof. Amiram Goldblum, a chemist, posted on Facebook that the haredi cities of Elad, Bnei Brak, Modi’in Illit, Betar Illit, Netivot and Beit Shemesh, as well as large neighborhoods in Ashdod and Jerusalem, “should be put under quarantine” for fear that some residents are coronavirus carriers.
“Warning!” he posted. “We have now learned that the South Korean tourists who traveled throughout Israel are sick with the coronavirus. They were carrying the virus when they visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs. From there, the virus spread, from the mezuzot to the synagogues and throughout the religious and ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.
“Until it becomes clear that the virus has been eliminated, it is advisable to stay away from synagogues, ultra-Orthodox community centers and wedding halls,” Goldblum posted.
The Facebook post, which has since been either removed or made private, caused an uproar among the ultra-Orthodox community and the religious community in general.
In a letter to its religious students and the press, Hebrew University said: “Amiram Goldblum’s embarrassing and racist statements do not reflect the position of the Hebrew University management, nor do they reflect the position of the Hebrew University community, which works tirelessly to advance a heterogeneous society. Thanks to the Hebrew University’s commitment to haredi students, we have become the leading university institution in Israel with regards to the integration of haredim in BA, MA and doctorate programs.”
Goldblum said he defends his statements but that they were misinterpreted as racist when they were meant to be scientific.
The professor has taught and done medical research at HU for some 40 years. Currently, he and his students are working on developing a drug to treat the coronavirus.
While the country is observing a 14-day quarantine period for those exposed to the virus, the incubation period could be up to 27 days according to Chinese scientists, Goldblum told The Jerusalem Post. Moreover, the virus can live on inorganic surfaces for up to nine days, he said.
“The South Koreans were here for about a week and a half,” Goldblum said. “They visited about 20 Christian sites and some open places. One place that they visited that many Israelis go and that is closed is the Tomb of the Patriarchs.” He said a video was disseminated across the Internet of the South Korean tourists praying to heal those with coronavirus disease and to eliminate it, alongside rabbis and congregants in the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
“They were in the Tomb of the Patriarchs on February 13,” Goldblum said. “That means anyone there that day or for nine days afterward could have been infected.”
There are some 30,000 visitors to the tomb each week, and about half of them are Israelis, mainly from religious neighborhoods, he said.
“All I said was that if we are putting Italians into quarantine until we are sure they don’t have the virus, here we should do the same,” Goldblum said. “I teach haredi students. I have had haredi PhD students. I am not antisemitic or any of the other bad things that people are saying. So much hysteria – and I never meant to say something offensive.”
On the same day that Goldblum wrote his Facebook post, a video circulated online showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Cave of the Patriarchs refusing to shake hands with congregants due to the coronavirus. Sara Netanyahu is overheard in the background saying, “It is a government directive.”
Goldblum said the reason haredi neighborhoods are not being quarantined is because “Litzman is afraid that his people will then not go out to vote and reelect him.”
In response to Goldblum, the Yamina Party said: “After you forbid putting on tefillin and cried religious coercion, you blame the religious Zionists for the coronavirus. It won’t work.”
Yamina was referring to a recent announcement by the Tel Aviv Municipality that it was banning tefillin stands near schools in the city. Goldblum lives in Tel Aviv.