Israeli government gets creative to convince Arab, ultra-Orthodox to obey health guidelines

Prime Minister Netanyahu met with doctors from the Arab community as the Health Ministry sought creative solutions for outreach to ultra-Orthodox Jews.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Most Israelis are following guidelines set by the Health Ministry regarding canceling events, avoiding public gatherings, and staying home except for critical needs like grocery shopping and pharmacy visits.

But getting the Arab and ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, populations to comply with the sweeping restrictions has proven a challenge for the Jewish state.

On Wednesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted senior Arab doctors at his office in Jerusalem to strategize on how best to educate the Arabic-speaking population about the threat of coronavirus and techniques to minimize its spread.

The doctors reported to the prime minister about their efforts to raise awareness of the virus within the Arab community, and released an Arabic-language statement encouraging the Arab population to follow the Ministry of Health’s guidelines.

Netanyahu also made a statement addressed to the Arab community saying, “Unfortunately, there is not enough adherence to the guidelines in the Arab sector. This is a problem that exists in all sectors, but particularly in the smaller villages, and we are doing our best to address this as quickly as possible.

“This is a virus that attacks everyone, irrespective of religion or sector. All citizens must assume responsibility for curbing the spread of the epidemic, with strict discipline.

“Even if the government takes all the steps necessary, it won’t help if the general public does not respond in kind,” he said

The Arab community is not the only population in Israel resisting the Health Ministry’s guidelines.

Earlier this week, despite Israel closing all secular and national-religious schools, several haredi rabbinic leaders said that they would not comply with government instructions and would keep their yeshivas and schools open.

“Rabbi Kanievsky says canceling Torah study is more dangerous than coronavirus,” Shmulik Woolf, a spokesperson for the rabbi, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Wednesday. Rabbi Kanievsky is the spiritual leader of the Lithuanian haredi sect.

Haredi leaders eventually agreed to a compromise, saying they would respect the Health Ministry’s guidelines of no more than 10 people per room, while still keeping their institutions open.

Because many haredim avoid the internet, smartphones, and television, the government must employ creative solutions to inform them of the guidelines and potential quarantine orders.

Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef recommended that the Health Ministry utilize cars with loudspeakers for outreach to the haredi populations.

He said that the cars should drive into religious communities, broadcasting messages to inform residents if they need to enter quarantine, and update them about new restrictions and developments in the fight against the virus.

On Tuesday, the Health Ministry launched a “special public relations mission” following Chief Rabbi Yosef’s advice.

Cars equipped with loudspeakers relayed messages in Hebrew and Yiddish “to clarify the unprecedented urgency of obeying Health Ministry instructions,” according to a statement by the Health Ministry. The cars were driven throughout haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem.