Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday afternoon delayed the start of a meeting of ministers to approve the closure of cities with high coronavirus infection rates after ultra-Orthdodox leaders warned they would halt government-mandated enforcement of health regulations if their communities were locked down.
The meeting was due to begin at 4:30pm but was delayed until an unspecified time later in the day.
The delay came after Netanyahu met with Haredi ministers Aryeh Deri and Yaakov Litzman, the heads of the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties.
Israel has seen its infection rates and death toll soar since May, when it came out of a full lockdown after several weeks. On Saturday, the country marked its 1,000th fatality from COVID-19 and saw an infection rate of more than 10%. The government has come under widespread criticism for its handling of the pandemic since the second wave began.
Litzman told the prime minister that they wanted different rules for their communities as they would not be able to control the population's actions.
United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat and Science and Technology Minister Yizhar Shai were also present at the meeting.
At the close of the meeting, Netanyahu told the ultra-Orthodox lawmakers that "alternatives to closures" would be considered and that they would be updated on the issue.
Netanyahu is reportedly considering nightly curfews in 40 cities and communities with high rates of contagion instead of full lockdown.
Earlier Sunday, the heads of three ultra-Orthodox communities warned Netanyahu in a letter that they were mulling suspension of all cooperation with the government in the fight against coronavirus.
Ministers have approved a lockdown of 30 so-called “red” communties with high infection rates, set to take effect on Monday.
The majority of the communities on the list have predominantly Arab or ultra-Orthodox populations. Sunday's meeting of the so-called cornavirus cabinet was to approve the final terms of the plan.
But the letter from Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein, Elad Mayor Yirael Porush and Beitar Illit Mayor Meir Rubinstein accuses Netanyahu of mismanaging the health crisis in the religious sector and creating division between the government and the Haredi public.
The letter also apparently warns the local authorities will stop cooperating with the government on the crisis, citing a lack transparency towards the ultra-Orthodox sector and unilateral decision-making.
An ultra-Orthodox source told Ynet that after weeks of slamming coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu, the Haredi officials have decided to divert the criticism towards Netanyahu.
"He is the one who does not consider us," the source told Ynet. "Gamzu is just a puppet, Bibi [Netanyahu] must understand that we are not in his pocket. We have reached a point where we have nothing more to lose."
A mass demonstration against Netanyahu was also planned to take place in the Haredi city of Bnei Brak, a coronavirus hotspot, later in the day.