Haredi leaders slam police violence against protesters

Ultra-Orthodox leaders meet Netanyahu, demand the government stop the selective lockdowns and police brutality.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Knesset members from the ultra-Orthodox parties met Monday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, demanding that he take action to stop focusing on their communities with lockdowns and a heavy police presence, Israel Hayom reported.

Shas Party leader Arye Deri slammed the government’s decision to impose closures on ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods where there had been coronavirus outbreaks, saying the lockdowns came with no financial compensation for those kept from work and no policy of moving those infected out of the neighborhoods and into special quarantine hotels.

“The closure, which has no aid package, does not achieve its purpose and harms the entire public. If patients cannot be evacuated, there is no reason to close,” Deri told Netanyahu.

Deri was also angry with the police after videos showed officers beating protesters Saturday night.

“The [heavy] hand against the ultra-Orthodox must stop,” Deri said.

Following the meeting, Netayahu’s office issued a statement that in future ultra-orthodox representatives would be consulted and updated before any lockdowns.

“I asked to meet here in order to hear from you and so that we could answer the distress, which I know is genuine and which touches our hearts. We want to help; nobody wants to harass, the opposite is true and I am open to listen,” Netanyahu said.

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Police said one officer had been removed from duty after he was recorded punching a protester in the face after the haredi man asked the policeman why he was not wearing his mask. After being punched, police arrested the man, Yitzhak Bleyer, 22.

During the protests Saturday night some of the haredi demonstrators got violent, throwing objects at the police and calling them “Nazis,” evoking criticism from right-wing Yemina Party member Bezalel Smotrich, who on Sunday had himself criticized the police for what he called disproportionate force against the haredi protesters compared to how they handled secular protests in Tel Aviv.

“My haredi brothers, violence, vandalism, cursing and screaming must be off limits,” Smotrich tweeted. “It’s bad on its own and it’s harmful. The difficulty and distress are real, but we must not drag the State of Israel into anarchy in the face of one of the most difficult challenges we have ever known.”

The religious legislators pointed out that the closures imposed on haredi neighborhoods were done without consultation.

“Unfortunately there is no transparency and the public does not know what is happening,” said Uri Maklev of the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party, adding that the “system is not doing what’s it is supposed to do.”

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On Sunday, UTJ Knesset member Yisrael Eichler was detained by police, who refused to let him pass from his locked-down Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Sanz to go to a doctor’s appointment, even after identifying himself as a Knesset member, which gives him unrestricted passage.

“It is further proof of the hostility to the ultra-Orthodox public that negates human rights for ultra-Orthodox people,” Eichler told the Kol Hazman news website, noting that the police couldn’t even differentiate between a haredi citizen and a Knesset member who has immunity from the restrictions.