Frustration in Israel over a second punitive bloc was inflamed by national resentment directed at sections of the ultra-Orthodox community, who refused to stop the mass religious events and clashed with police in an attempt to disperse them.
While most of the country has remained home in hopes of curbing an infection rate that threatens to get out of control, thousands of men gathered shoulder to shoulder this week at the funeral of Rabbi Mordechai Leifer, 64, who died of Covid ̵
Public television showed footage of a sea of black and fur hats worn on Monday by ultra-Orthodox men in the coastal city of Ashdod, with a small police unit crushed in the middle, failing in their attempts to control the crowd.
“The images we are seeing are spit in the face of the entire country,” far-right politician Avigdor Liberman wrote on Facebook.
The pandemic has sparked deeply entrenched grudges among secular and religious elements within Israel that have been manifesting for decades. Under the agreements made at the time of the state’s founding, many ultra-Orthodox Israelis avoid military service and live on government salaries, factors that have already led to bitterness.
Israel is now facing one of the worst coronavirus epidemics in the world on a per capita basis, and the ultra-Orthodox community is disproportionately affected. The country’s coronavirus “czar” Ronni Gamzu said last week that members of the ultra-Orthodox community account for up to 40% of new cases of the virus, despite accounting for around 10% of Israel’s 9 million citizens.
The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government is supported by ultra-Orthodox politicians, has been accused by secular leaders of appeasing the minority to the detriment of the rest of the country. Last month, following pressure from ultra-Orthodox mayors, Netanyahu abandoned a plan for localized blockades that would affect religious areas.
Meanwhile, some within the ultra-Orthodox community see the restrictions as a greater threat to their lifestyle than the virus, especially since the two blocs coincided with Jewish holidays. The goal was to prevent services in crowded synagogues and large family reunions while reducing the economic burden by blocking during national holidays.
But the measures have been criticized by the more hardline sections of the ultra-Orthodox community, who are vehemently against the state and have long abhorred government interference in their traditions, leading to regular rifts with law enforcement even before the pandemic.
“[The police] they hate us, they hate religion. This is a war on religion, nothing else, “said Yulish Krois, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi and 18-year-old father.
Monday’s funeral followed days of clashes in ultra-Orthodox districts, with groups of men lighting fires in the street and throwing stones at police in riot gear. In an incident in the occupied West Bank colony of Beitar Illit, a police officer was filmed throwing a bucket at a boy.
“We did everything that was required of us: prayed outside, prayed in capsules. Eventually, we found that almost all of us already had Covid-19, “Krois said.” The rabbis told us to keep going to the synagogues, to continue with our celebrations and we do what our rabbis tell us. to do”.
Many religious Israelis point out that ultra-Orthodox communities often live in poor and congested areas where infections can spread rapidly. They believe they are being misidentified for a wave of infections that has also been attributed to an overly enthusiastic reopening of the economy.
“The situation is more complicated than we can see in these images and videos,” said Yitzik Crombie, an ultra-Orthodox entrepreneur who studies the community’s relationship with the state at the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs.
He said ultra-Orthodox communities had lost faith in Israel’s fight against the virus because they saw how the government balanced religious freedoms against other issues, such as the reopening of hotels and restaurants during the summer, while limiting the frequency of the synagogue.
“The community thought, ‘Why are my values less important than others?’ They decided they would decide what was important to them, “he said. “There is no trust with the government. You can’t fight the pandemic without trust. “