Haredi minister quits government over lockdown imposed during holidays

Litzman threatened to leave the government. He is the most outspoken of the opponents to the lockdown plan. 

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Weary Israelis were treated to more corona drama on Sunday as Yaakov Litzman of the ultra-religious United Torah Judaism party, and a minister in the current government, quit as the government is set to approve a lockdown proposal for the High Holidays, which begin this Friday evening.

Litzman warned several hours before the government meeting of his intention to resign if the decision made on Thursday to impose a nationwide lockdown of two weeks is passed. It must have been clear to him even before the decision was announced which way the winds blew.

Litzman is reportedly concerned for his constituency. Religious Jews during the holidays traditionally hold mass prayers on the Jewish New Year and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).

In his resignation letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Litzman wrote that he was concerned for non-Orthodox worshippers: “This is a serious decision, Mr. Prime Minister, that will significantly dilute and reduce the number of people coming to synagogues on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, especially tens of thousands of Jews, from a variety of different populations, some for whom this is the only time during the year that they are accustomed to coming to pray at synagogue.”

Netanyahu said in response, “I was very sorry for Minister Litzman’s decision to resign. I very much appreciate Yaakov Litzman and I also respect his decision. We must move forward and make the necessary decisions.”

Litzman was joined in his opposition to the lockdown by other ministers, including Minister of Economy Amir Peretz of the Labor party.

Peretz said, “Hundreds of thousands of employees and business owners are living in fear. The economic coronavirus plague is no less severe than the health plague. But if you place limits – then you compensate. I have turned to the prime minister demanding that a team be formed immediately to determine a plan for compensation which will be clear to everyone.”

Minister of Finance Yisrael Katz of the Likud party also said he would vote against the lockdown. He argues for a night curfew, effective enforcement and supplying the hospitals with additional funds to fight corona instead.

According to estimates, the lockdown will cost the Israeli economy an immediate loss of 12-15 billion shekels.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, following the calls for cancellation, said he strongly supports the lockdown.

“Once we start setting conditions for one area or another, we will collapse the whole proposal, and as a result we will collapse the health care system,” he said.

“I know the heavy price of the closure, and precisely because of that, during the 3 months I have been in the office, I have tried to do everything to avoid closure,” he said, noting that corona czar Ronni Gamzu had adopted the same policy.