Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled plans to impose full lockdowns on dozens of towns and cities across the country, agreeing to lesser restrictions aimed at curtailing the spread of the coronavirus.
Netanyahu walked back the lockdown plans after meeting with haredi ministers Aryeh Deri (Shas) and Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) and Coronavirus Czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu at the Prime Minister’s Office Sunday afternoon.
The meeting was scheduled after haredi mayors penned a scathing letter to Netanyahu, warning that the haredi public would “never forget this injustice” of imposing a new lockdown on haredi cities like Bnei Brak, Elad, Emmanuel, Rekhasim, Beitar Illit, and parts of Beit Shemesh.
Four ultra-Orthodox mayors are threatening not to cooperate with the lockdowns, and in an extraordinary letter on Sunday warned the prime minister: “We will not forget who is the man who, time and again, signed onto turning us into disease vectors and enemies of the people.”
Netanyahu’s apparent about-face came after Haredi leaders published an unprecedented open letter earlier Sunday accusing him of “trampling” their communities and “turning us into disease vectors and enemies of the people.”
The letter was signed by Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein, Beitar Illit Mayor Meir Rubinstein, Elad Mayor Israel Porush and Immanuel Mayor Eliyahu Gafni.
“You never bothered to hear our voices, to understand our crisis, and to try to advance practical efforts to flatten the curve of infections, you weren’t listening and weren’t interested in learning,” the mayors charged.
Instead, Netanyahu “imposed one lockdown after another on Haredi cities, which never made a real difference — or we’d all have supported them with one voice and implemented them of our own accord.”
They accused Netanyahu of “trying to shift the media pressure to the weakest communities.
“We will stop cooperating with the various authorities,” they wrote, “on anything connected to the lockdown. The state’s agencies are welcome to act on their own, as they’ve done in any case over our heads. You yourself, personally, must take upon yourself the responsibility, prime minister.”
And they concluded: “The entire Haredi public will not forget the injustice being done to it. We will not forget who is the man who, time and again, signed onto turning us into disease vectors and enemies of the people through selective punishment of tens of thousands of families in the Haredi community. We see in you the lone perpetrator of these punishments.”
The view expressed in the letter, they said, had gained the backing of the Haredi community’s top rabbis before it was sent.
Earlier on Sunday, the Prime Minister pushed off a planned meeting of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which was to have officially designated a number of towns as no-go zones because of their high coronavirus infection levels.
A Haredi political source was quoted by the Israel Hayom newspaper, generally regarded as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu, as saying that the crisis with the premier was even more severe than when Netanyahu sent the ultra-Orthodox parties to the opposition in 2013 and formed a government with their arch-rival Yair Lapid.
The measures proposed by Gamzu included banning entry and exit, keeping residents within 500 meters of their homes, stopping public transportation, and closing non-essential businesses and all schools, save for daycare facilities and special education programs.
In a tentative agreement reached with Litzman and Deri, the government will scrap plans to impose a full lockdown, instead imposing nightly curfews in 40 towns and cities from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. every day. Businesses in the 40 communities will be required to close during the 12 hour curfew, with the exception of ‘essential services’.
In addition, schools in the 40 towns and cities will be closed.
Header: Police officers close synagogues and hand out fines to Haredi Jews in Jerusalem’s Bukharim neighborhood, following government restrictions imposed as part of the effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, April 6, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)