Israel quadruples coronavirus fine for large weddings

Government approves doubling fines for businesses but bumps up fines to stop large weddings, where virus is known to spread.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s coronavirus cabinet on Tuesday approved an increase in the fines for violating the virus health guidelines in a bid to force compliance as the country struggles to lower infection rates.

Businesses caught being open without approval now face double the previous fine and will have to pay 10,000 shekels ($2,900).

However, faced with the problem of police repeatedly being called to shut down large weddings and private schools that have opened despite a closure order, the cabinet approved a jump from 5,000 shekels to a fine of 20,000 shekels ($5,800) for holding mass gatherings.

Current regulations forbid indoor gatherings of more than 10 people and limit outdoor events to a maximum of 20. Media reports and videos posted on social media during the national lockdown show police intervening at numerous large weddings, predominantly held by ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs.

Despite the cabinet’s approval of the new fines, the decision has to be put into legislation and then be approved by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, where it is expected to be opposed by the haredi parties that are partners in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government.

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Minister of Religious Affairs Yaakov Avitan of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party opposes the decision. Last month, Channel 13 reported that Avitan violated the national lockdown when he officiated a wedding attended by dozens of people at a private home. Although the wedding ceremony was held outdoors, the numbers violated the restrictions and police handed out 14 fines at the event.

Shas leader and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri objected to applying the higher fines to educational institutions, which he said should not have been closed in the first place.

“European countries that entered a second lockdown did not close the education system because they realized that it has a high moral importance,” Deri said in comments reported by Ynet. “We have closed the education system and it’s reopening is too slow, in my opinion. A fine that specifically targets educational institutions is a terrible mistake, and yet it is the highest [fine].”

Deri alleged that the increased fines target the ultra-Orthodox school system, which religious leaders have tried to keep open despite the lockdwon. Deri asked for educational institutions to be exempted from the category of mass gatherings, or instead to reduce the fine they would receive, but he failed to convince the cabinet.

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For those hit with a fine, including the current 500 shekel ($150) penalty for failing to wear a mask in public, the government set up websites to pay or appeal to cancel the fine within 30 days of receiving it.