Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said Monday that residents of ultra-Orthodox cities and communities in the country are being treated in a “discriminatory and degrading” manner in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic.
Litzman was last week diagnosed with COVID-19 and has been in self-isolation ever since. Sources said he contracted the virus after failing to adhere to the guidelines issued by his own ministry.
The remarks came after the municipality of Ramat Gan put up barricades along its border with the ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak, which has recorded a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections in the last few days and was placed under a government lockdown.
"I urge the mayor of Ramat Gan to avoid meddling and creating friction between the populations [of the two neighboring cities]," Litzman said. "The residents of Bnei Brak and the entire ultra-Orthodox population should not be discriminated against."
Earlier in the day the barricade, which had been put up by the representatives of Ramat Gan Municipality, has turned into heated issue as the Bnei Brak city workers arrived at the scene and began dismantling the wire fence.
“As long as the Israel Police don’t block the entrance points [to Bnei Brak] even though the movement between cities is now forbidden by law, the conclusion is that it's appropriate and correct to plug all openings,” the Ramat Gan municipality said in a statement.
Bnei Brak residents raged against the decision, saying that "they [Ramat Gan municipality] are turning us into lepers, it's like putting us in a ghetto."
This anger has already added to the tense relations between Bnei Brak officials and Ramat Gan Mayor Carmel Shama-Hacohen, who last week demanded the neighboring city be put under full lockdown.
Shimon Cohen, who lives on the street of Ba'al HaTanya in Bnei Brak along the border with Ramat Gan, said he has no doubt that mayor Shama-Hacohen is behind the initiative. "He will do anything to hurt the residents of Bnei Brak. He offered to ship toys to the city yesterday – but no one wants his charity," he said.
"The coronavirus epidemic will eventually pass, but the inhumane conduct of Ramat Gan Mayor Carmel Shama-Hacohen will be remembered in infamy," said Bnei Brak Mayor, Rabbi Avraham Rubinstein. "The man who tried to cut a political coupon on the plight of Bnei Brak residents, who are under harsh traffic restrictions, erecting fences around the ghetto which he demanded to establish.
"The Bnei Brak municipality strongly protests this nasty and ugly act of its 'good neighbor' Ramat Gan, which has chosen to initiate this sickening step without any authority," he added. "Putting up fences is a violent step that suits the conduct of criminals and reminds of darker periods of the past in the lives of the Jewish community."
The Interior Ministry has since ordered for the fence to be taken down.
First published: 15:07 , 04.06.20