Israel’s ultra-Orthodox leaders have change of heart over targeted lockdowns

Religious factions in Knesset agree to city lockdowns where needed after national closure is lifted.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Representatives of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset said Tuesday that they will not object to closures on individual cities once the nationwide lockdown has been lifted, Israel Hayom reported.

Those same leaders had previously complained that they were being singled out, pointing to the government’s failure to shut down mass protests by mostly secular anti-government demonstrators.

The government argued it was going by the numbers. Health Ministry statistics showed infection rates far above the national average in several cities with high ultra-Orthodox populations.

When selective enforcement didn’t work, the government decided on a national lockdown instead. With the once robust economy weighed down by the pandemic and employment soaring, ultra-Orthodox leaders have had a change of heart. They say they’re now ready to accept the localized lockdown program, known as the ‘Traffic Light’ system, developed by corona czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu.

“If the morbidity decreases all over the country and they have to open the economy and make differential closures in red cities, I will support it to allow the economy to return to activity,” said Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who heads the religious Shas Party.

Similarly, officials from the United Torah Judaism Party said they believe the numbers will be coming down in the coming days under the national closure, but admitted that “if there is a disease, what can be done.”

Gamzu, who is in charge of government efforts to fight the spread of the disease, said that he expected lockdowns to remain in effect in localities that are centers of high infection rates.

“It is inconvenient and unpleasant, but it will be necessary to treat it,” Gamzu said, emphasizing that local closures are “not a punishment,” but a move that has also been made in other parts of the world to deal with the coronavirus.

Gamzu noted that the numbers appeared to be going down, but he cautioned that it was too early for the country to ease restrictions that have closed schools and non-essential businesses and limited Israelis to within one kilometer of their homes.

“We see a certain decrease in the level of morbidity,” Gamzu said, including in ultra-Orthodox and Arab areas where infections had been spiking, but due to the current Sukkot holiday and lack of routine, “we are not convinced for sure.”

When rates drop low enough, Gamzu said, the country will return to the “Traffic Light” model with red areas remaining locked down, yellow areas allowed to partially reopen and green areas returning to normal activity, although sticking with the overall policy of social distancing and wearing of masks.