Regev Responds

The data is clear and frightening

Update on COVID-19 and religion

There is almost no news broadcast on radio or television these days on the COVID-19 pandemic that does not mention the ultra-Orthodox issue.

Haredi man on bus, source: WikipediaHaredi man on bus, source: Wikipedia

There is almost no news broadcast on radio or television these days on the COVID-19 pandemic that does not mention the ultra-Orthodox issue. Such mentions usually refer to one of three topics, or some combination thereof: 1) the enormous extent of morbidity in the ultra-Orthodox sector, which exceeds by several counts its share of the population; 2) the widespread disregard in the ultra-Orthodox sector [educational institutions, weddings, funerals, etc.] for the prohibitions and restrictions established for the protection of the public from the pandemic; 3) the expressions this has on the political level, Government and Knesset decisions, and predictions for the coming elections.

There is no doubt that these issues will play a role in the upcoming election campaign and further contribute to growing criticism throughout Israel regarding the effects of ultra-Orthodox politics on the way decisions are made in Israel. In the context of the pandemic, Israel’s current Coronavirus Commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash, his predecessor, Prof. Ronni Gamzo, and the person in charge of addressing the pandemic in the ultra-Orthodox sector, Major General Roni Numa, have all been hindered due to ultra-Orthodox political pressure, which disrupted their correct and medically necessary decisions.

In recent days, one of the main contenders for laureate in political poetry, Naftali Bennett, the leader of Yamina [the main party of religious Zionism], performed a 180-degree turn when he announced yesterday that “The laws of a state are not merely a recommendation. Netanyahu, in his behavior, brought this situation in which everyone makes his own law upon us… The ultra-Orthodox politicians are making laws for themselves and thereby endangering their public and all Israeli citizens... There will be no situation in which students in public education stay at home, while studies continue in independent educational networks. I will have partnership, not blackmail; participation, not separatism.”

And, today, Avigdor Lieberman's words were published in a recording of an internal discussion In which he broadcast a warning to the leaders of the other parties that hope to establishment a right-wing / center-right bloc to replace Bibi and his current coalition following the election [Gideon Saar / Naftali Bennett / Yair Lapid / Avigdor Lieberman]. According to him, they should not count on his participation in such a bloc if they intend to include the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition.

The data is clear and frightening. 28% of all newly verified COVID-19 patients are from Israel’s ultra-Orthodox sector [which constitutes about 10% of the population].

The data is clear and frightening. 28% of all newly verified COVID-19 patients are from Israel’s ultra-Orthodox sector [which constitutes about 10% of the population]. The percentage of positive test results in the ultra-Orthodox sector is 17.5%, compared to the national average of 7.2%. The percentage of positive tests in Beitar Illit, which is the reddest of the COVID-19 red zones in Israel, continues to rise and stands at 25.85%. The ultra-Orthodox politicians continue to talk about housing density in the sector as a cause of high morbidity, but they ignore the many violations of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions that characterize the ultra-Orthodox sector, with the knowledge and participation of many leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis, particularly in the Hassidic sub-sector. Furthermore, new data published yesterday indicate that in Bnei Brak, a major ultra-Orthodox city with a large and dense population, among families with corona patients – there is an average of 1.25 sick individuals per family; that is - the bulk of the morbidity is not inside the house but outside it.

Despite all this, reports continue to come of lobbying efforts by Netanyahu and his people to leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis, asking them them to comply with the restrictions of the new lock-down announced today. It is clear to our political leaders that the ultra-Orthodox public, for the most part, is not affected by law and government decisions but obeys only its rabbis, who previously ordered, for example, the continuation of studies in ultra-Orthodox educational institutions, while ignoring the government restrictions. Police also announced in a briefing to reporters that “Police officers will not enter to disperse children in educational institutions that act in violation of regulations.”

The police are facing awkward photos that emerged this week of officers who entered a prohibited event of the wedding of the grandson of one of a Chassidic rebbe, which was attended by hundreds of guests without masks. Instead of dispersing the event and fining its organizers - one of the officers was photographed kneeling before the Rebbe and kissing his hands while receiving a blessing. To the credit of the new commander of the Israel Police, he ordered the officers who had been on duty to be removed and an investigation opened into their misconduct.

However, it is not at all clear, in light of the announcement that the police will not use force to prevent the operation of educational institutions that continue to operate in violation of the law, that there is any intention to enforce this lockdown. Hiddush, for our part, is compiling documentation of dozens of cases of violations of the government restrictions and will file a complaint in the coming days to the police, demanding that sanctions will be taken against the senior rabbis involved in these cases.

Finally, among recent anecdotes, we noted that a tweet had been published that analyzed the the ups and downs of the pandemic, in comparison with the dates when the activities of the “Women of the Western Wall” took place. The tweet claimed that a comparison of these data proves that the Women of the Wall are responsible for the increasing in morbidity in Israel...

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