Defiance, violence as some Haredi communities flout virus restrictions

Monday’s scuffle between Haredim and the police is just the latest in a series of violent clashes between the religious community and law enforcement.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

When a prominent hasidic rabbi known as the Pittsburgher Rebbe of Ashdod died of coronavirus this Sunday, his followers and the police thought they worked out a plan for his funeral that would conform with public health guidelines under the current coronavirus lockdown.

But on Monday, several thousand mourners attended the funeral, some of whom traveled to Ashdod from other cities, in direct violation of health restrictions.

As police tried to enforce social distancing guidelines, haredim pushed back and chaos ensued. A video from the event shows police officers striking and pushing mourners, while mourners, many without masks, blatantly violated the health restrictions.

Monday’s scuffle between haredim and the police is just the latest in a series of violent clashes between the ultra-Orthodox community and law enforcement.

In recent days, a number of videos widely disseminated on social media appear to show police using violence to crack down on haredim who flout virus rules by holding large gatherings and congregating in public spaces.

In one video, a police officer is seen hurling a bucket at a haredi boy, striking him in the back. Another video shows a police officer tackling a haredi man and kneeing him in the face.

Yet another video shows a police officer pushing a haredi boy riding an electric scooter, sending the boy tumbling to the ground.

The haredim claim they are being unfairly targeted by the authorities. They point to large weekly protests, mainly by secular Israelis, against Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic that have continued throughout the summer.

Only last week, the government finally placed limits on the size of the protests, citing violations of public health guidelines.

“We are at the closest point to an explosion in terms of the mistrust,” said Israel Cohen, a commentator with the haredi radio station Kol Barama.

For decades, the isolated community has functioned as its own de facto autonomous entity within Israel. Haredim have their own educational system. These schools focus on teaching students religious texts, and skills like arithmetic and English are often overlooked.

Men are granted exemptions from army service and many receive stipends from the state, which enable them to study in yeshivas and forgo traditional employment.

Tensions between secular and Haredi Israelis have reached a boiling point, as statistics revealed that a disproportionate amount of new coronavirus cases are found among the haredim.

Israel’s coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu told the government last week that haredi morbidity rates are four times those of the general population. Haredim, scarcely 12 percent of Israel’s population, account for 40 percent of new cases being detected, he says.

“We’ve been asked to go into this lockdown, with its insane economic cost, that is causing people to go insane, because of the increase in coronavirus which is mostly occurring in the haredi community,” wrote media personality Judy Shalom Nir Mozes on the Ynet news site.

“There are two sets of laws here. One for us and one for them.”

Many haredim are quick to point out that those disregarding the health guidelines are in the minority.

“I do not enter synagogues in any way,” a resident of a haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem told Channel 12 News.

“There are intelligent people in the haredi community, normal, sane people. Whoever does not follow the Health Ministry guidelines is, in my opinion, a murderer.”

AP contributed to this report.