Haredi COVID-19 riots shows society needs healing - opinion

It’s heartbreaking to see hundreds of rioters engaging in violence against their fellow Israelis, all in the name of a fringe sect of haredim.

ULTRA-ORTHODOX RIOTERS in Bnei Brak torch a dumpster on Sunday to protest a lockdown ordered because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
ULTRA-ORTHODOX RIOTERS in Bnei Brak torch a dumpster on Sunday to protest a lockdown ordered because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
You would think that during the week of International Holocaust Memorial Day, when Jews around the world come together in solemn memory of the more than six million victims of the Holocaust, we would be able to set aside our infighting.
You would think that after an entire year of lockdowns, lengthy restrictions with heavy economic consequences, and of course thousands of deaths due to COVID-19, we would come together and push through the final stretch as Israel rolls out coronavirus vaccines.
Not so. Over the last week in particular, several specific haredi sects throughout the country have made sure to remind the rest of society, currently suffering in lockdown, that they are not bound by the laws of the State of Israel. They have rioted, vandalized and even set fires to buses – all because the police started (yes, only now started) enforcing the lockdown restrictions the entire population (that is, everyone else) has already been subjected to for weeks.
While secular mothers and fathers struggled at home because schools were closed, some sectors of the haredi communities in Mea She’arim, Bnei Brak and elsewhere decided that they didn’t need to follow the law, and they were going to send their kids to yeshiva anyway.
One of the most prominent rabbis, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who previously flouted initial COVID-19 restrictions by opposing the law back in 2020, gave “permission” to open additional yeshivot in the haredi sector during this lockdown, despite the prime minister himself pleading with him not to.
While millions of Israeli families stayed at home and didn’t hold events, weddings, even Shabbat dinners, yeshivot such as that near my house in Jaffa could be heard all the way down the street with a large group of men singing and celebrating together. Not a cop to be found.
While it’s true that the majority of haredim follow the law, far too many are in stark violation of it, and endanger themselves and all those around them with their lawless behavior, violating restrictions and violently attacking police who do their job.
After reports from the police showed a massive gap in the number of tickets given to haredi communities versus secular communities or Arab communities, the public was outraged. By far, Arabs received the highest number of tickets for violating the lockdown, followed by secular communities, and only a fraction of the total tickets dispersed were in haredi communities. This despite the fact that haredim, about 10% of the total population, account for almost 40% of the total COVID-19 cases in the entire country.
But the police have taken some action. In Bnei Brak last week, police had to break up a wedding of hundreds of haredim who held a massive event in violation of COVID-19 restrictions. The tensions intensified. When the police later entered Bnei Brak to enforce the law last week, a riot ensued, which resulted in a near lynch of a policeman and the total violent destruction of the policeman’s vehicle.
Sunday, throughout the day, massive riots occurred in Ashdod, Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh and Bnei Brak in response to the police taking action to close illegally opened schools. Multiple police were physically attacked, the Jerusalem Light Rail was vandalized, protesters violently attacked the press and, most horrifically, a group of rioters targeted an Arab-Israeli bus driver and torched his bus in Bnei Brak. In the video, shouts can even be heard shouting “Arab, Arab” before the rioters set fire to the entire bus – an appalling scene that brings shame to the entire country. The same evening, police broke up a wedding in Beit Shemesh, where attendees threw objects at the police and burned trash.
AS UGLY as the behavior of these rioters is, the fact remains that the government and the police bear some responsibility for the situation today.
It is the government that has permitted these specific groups of haredim to behave in an utterly lawless fashion with little to no accountability, whether in refusing to do National Service or serve in the IDF, demanding secular society endorse their gender discrimination, or any other infraction of the laws of the state.
It is the police that refused to crack down appropriately on fringe segments of the haredi community attacking police, MDA medics, and IDF soldiers, and now we are all paying the price – including the majority of haredim, who follow the laws and are endangered by the spread of corona.
The very fact that our own prime minister is pleading with a rabbinical authority to enforce the laws of the state is a pitiful and pathetic example of how atrocious the situation has become. Enough.
It’s heartbreaking to see hundreds of rioters engaging in violence against their fellow Israelis, all in the name of a fringe sect of haredim.
Our leaders – whether in the haredi community or in secular society – must do more to help our communities build understanding and love for each other instead of the hatred we see today.
Anyone who calls for violence against law enforcement or Israelis must be held accountable, to the fullest extent.
Violence, vandalism, and setting a public bus afire because it’s driven by an Israeli-Arab are actions no better than those of the terrorists who commit such vile acts against Jews. We must do better.
Only a few decades ago, both religious and secular would have been targeted by the same virulent hatred of the Nazis. This Wednesday, the global Jewish community remembers the lives lost in the Holocaust. Now, perhaps more than ever, we must find it within our society to heal these divides and confront the battles we face today together, whether they be antisemitism or coronavirus.

The writer is the CEO of Social Lite Creative.