The police have not created a deterrence for coronavirus violators

In Jerusalem, police conducted sweeps of the Ramat Eshkol and Sanhedria neighborhoods and found synagogues, yeshivot and schools open,

Ultra-Orthodox residents walk through of the Mea She’arim neighborhood of Jerusalem, August 2020 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Ultra-Orthodox residents walk through of the Mea She’arim neighborhood of Jerusalem, August 2020
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Israel is in the middle of the world’s most effective campaign to get citizens vaccinated against coronavirus. At the same time, the rate of infection and the death toll continue to climb alarmingly. There were over 10,000 new cases reported on Tuesday as the number of Israelis who have died during the ongoing 10-month pandemic passed the 4,000 mark.
On Tuesday, the cabinet approved the extension of the current lockdown until the end of the month. In addition, the body approved requiring all passengers entering Israel from abroad to present negative coronavirus tests performed within 72 hours of their flights.
“We find ourselves in the middle of a close race between the vaccination campaign and the rising morbidity in the world because of the mutations,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the beginning of the cabinet meeting.
He also singled out one segment of the populace that has been brazen in violating the restrictions imposed by the government to force the numbers down and enable the gradual reopening of the country and its economy – the haredim.
Ultra-Orthodox cities and neighborhoods are registering record numbers of coronavirus cases. Thirty percent of all COVID-19 infections nationwide came from the haredi sector, despite it representing just 12% of the total population. The rate of positive coronavirus tests in the community is 22%, more than double that of the general population.
There have continued to be videos released of large gatherings and weddings in the haredi sector, and walks around the Mea She’arim neighborhood of Jerusalem reveal life being conducted as usual, as though there were no deadly pandemic.
In Jerusalem, police conducted sweeps of the Ramat Eshkol and Sanhedria neighborhoods and found synagogues, yeshivot and schools open, in violation of government orders. In Bnei Brak, Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, police have clashed with haredim who have violated the lockdown restrictions.
The deterrence of fines for violating the restrictions doesn’t seem to be working. According to a study sponsored by Israel Hofsheet (Be Free Israel), an organization that struggles against religious coercion and for pluralism, haredi cities have the lowest proportion of fines for violations of government coronavirus regulations, despite having some of the highest morbidity rates.
The number of fines issued in the largest haredi cities – including Bnei Brak, Modi’in Illit, Betar Illit and Elad – is proportionally some 18 times lower than in the 50 cities with the highest rates of fines to COVID-19 patients, Israel Hofsheet said, according to a report by The Jerusalem Post’s Jeremy Sharon.
As Sharon noted, the haredi community in Israel behaves like an autonomous body, with its own set of rules and norms. Netanyahu has been forced to practically beg haredi leaders – from Yanki Kanievsky, the grandson of one of the most senior haredi rabbis in the world, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, to the Vizhnitzer Rebbe and United Torah Judaism MK Ya’acov Litzman, who represents the Gerrer Hassidim and reports to the Gerrer Rebbe – to use their clout to convince the community to close its schools during the lockdown.
With the cabinet extension approved, it’s even more unlikely that his appeals will be heeded, as the haredim believe that children studying Torah in haredi schools is more important than social distancing, in the fight against the virus.
However, despite their blatant disregard of restrictions and appeals by the prime minister of the country of which they are citizens, the kid-glove treatment afforded haredim by Netanyahu is likely to continue, primarily due to one issue – elections. Ahead of the March 23 poll, Netanyahu can’t afford to alienate his possible coalition partners – UTJ and Shas – in his last-gasp attempt to remain in power as his corruption trial heads into its main act.
It’s highly unlikely that the Likud would be able to form a coalition without its haredi partners. So heavy pressure on religious leaders to implement an “equal enforcement” of the coronavirus restrictions throughout Israeli society – as Blue and White has regularly demanded in return for its support of continued restrictions – is just not going to happen under Netanyahu’s watch.
It’s a deadly game of politics, in the literal sense. And we are paying the ultimate price – with our lives.


Tags Haredi