Haredi political games are risking Israel's public health

Opinion: Unlike Arab leaders who understand the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic, their ultra-Orthodox counterparts have refused to cooperate with any plan, instead placing their own values above the lives of the rest of the population

Ram Fruman|
This week, I recalled Henry Kissinger's famous saying that "Israel has no foreign policy, only a domestic policy." But now we are seeing that Israel has neither. It has no health policy as well, only an ultra-Orthodox one.
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  • Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers can already be named as the main culprits in the dissolution of two Israeli governments - that of Yitzhak Rabin in 1974 and of Ehud Barak in 2001.
    5 View gallery
    ישיבת סיעות בלוק הימין
    ישיבת סיעות בלוק הימין
    L-R: Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, who heads the United Torah Judaism party, and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who heads Shas
    (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)
    Their grip on and sway over everyday decision-making was made even clearer during the coronavirus pandemic.
    It was frustrating to see from the start, but a red line was crossed when the government's plan to initiate lockdowns in virus hotspots was scrapped due to Haredi pressure, essentially killing coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu's whole new comprehensive outline for fighting the pandemic.
    It is now clear to all that the state cares far less for the public health than it does for appeasing the ultra-Orthodox.
    For it turns out the ultra-Orthodox sector was terribly insulted when Gamzu pointed to them and the Arab sector as the most problematic populations when it comes to coronavirus morbidity.
    The coronavirus czar, who is fortunately free of all political ties and pressure - even political correctness, can speak the truth.
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    רוני גמזו ""מתנצל בפני החברה החרדית אם הרגישה שאנחנו מסמנים אותה"
    רוני גמזו ""מתנצל בפני החברה החרדית אם הרגישה שאנחנו מסמנים אותה"
    Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu
    (Photo: Tomer Appelbaum)
    The issue with these communities has nothing to do with their actions. They are both characterized by crowded living conditions, sizeable population growth and intensively communal lives.
    Prayer houses, not only in today's Israel but throughout world history, have served as breeding grounds for disease outbreaks: small, enclosed spaces packed with people yelling and spraying saliva at one another during prayers and sermons.
    Objectively, both are high risk groups. Therefore, it is not surprising that they are the source of many of the country's current coronavirus hotspots and deserve special administrative treatment to deal with them.
    Arab leaders have understood this perfectly and have welcomed these so-called "discriminatory" actions.
    Ultra-Orthodox leaders on the other hand, embarked on a battle of wills for the "honor" of their communities, systematically refusing to cooperate with any of the proposed outlines.
    The cynics among us will say that finally the Haredi leaders are willing to tear down their self-imposed ghetto walls and join the general public.
    If in the past they refused to join the military or teach secular subjects in their schools, now they are calling for all of us to share the burden of a nationwide lockdown.
    Suddenly, their fates are interwoven with the rest of the public. But this is merely their same motivations and old attitudes writ large.

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    הפגנה של תושבי רוממה במחאה על הסגר שהוטל על השכונה
    הפגנה של תושבי רוממה במחאה על הסגר שהוטל על השכונה
    Haredi men protesting against the closure of areas of Jerusalem in an effort to curb the pandemic
    (Photo: Shalev Shalom)
    Their values do not allow them to join the military, so the rest can fight and die for them.
    Their values do not allow them to learn secular subjects at school, so the rest of us need to fund their cost of living.
    Torah study and prayer are the most important values to them, so they are willing to infect the rest of us and make the entire country go into another lockdown. And everybody but them will suffer the economic consequences.
    The Haredi hierarchy deals with issues that for others seem pointless, which is their right to do so, but they should pay for that lifestyle, not us.
    This is true both for economics and for public health.
    The ultra-Orthodox politics of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, ministers Yaakov Litzman and Aryeh Deri and their friends are jeopardizing our livelihood, our health and even our lives.
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    הרב חיים קניבסקי קנייבסקי
    הרב חיים קניבסקי קנייבסקי
    Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky
    (Photo: Shlomi Cohen)
    It has become rather popular lately for the defenders of the ultra-Orthodox to point to the mass protests outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem.
    Except those demonstrations have been going on for more than 11 weeks and as far as the health experts can tell, not a single person has been infected at one of these protests.
    I am sure that the minute the protests are found to pose a health risk, an alternative will be found for their continuation.
    Still others say that the ultra-Orthodox public should not suffer the consequences for actions of their leadership.
    If this is the case, the ultra-Orthodox are more than welcome to replace those leaders. If not, they are as culpable as they are.
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    בנימין נתניהו יעקב ליצמן ישיבת ממשלה
    בנימין נתניהו יעקב ליצמן ישיבת ממשלה
    Yaakov Litzman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
    (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)
    But it is important to remember that the main culprit here is Benjamin Netanyahu, who has caved to every Haredi whim to the point that some have branded him "the first ultra-Orthodox prime minister."
    Also guilty are Blue & White leader Benny Gantz and the rest of the political establishment who are down there toeing the line with Netanyahu.
    All secular and conservative Jews, from the left, the right and even religious Zionism, must unite to stop this surrender to the ultra-Orthodox before it is too late.
    People always talk of "the State of Tel Aviv", but very quickly this nation is becoming "the State of Bnei Brak."
    Everyone who refuses to make this the new normal must unite to find an alternative, or we really will have to found the State of Tel Aviv, where all the sane people live.
    Prof. Ram Fruman is the CEO of the Secular Forum.
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