Lockdown downgraded to night curfew as Netanyahu responds to Ultra-Orthodox

The original plan called for a full lockdown on 10 cities, with mainly Arab or haredi populations. 

By David Isaac, World Israel News

It wasn’t the original plan but a last-minute change on Monday following pressure from haredi (Ultra-orthodox) leaders led Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to change tack. The new plan calls for a night curfew only on some 40 towns, cities and neighborhoods.

The original plan approved last Thursday called for a full lockdown on 10 cities, with mainly Arab or haredi populations. Night curfews were to be imposed on an additional 21 cities and neighborhoods.

The new plan was formulated after Netanyahu deliberated with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and haredi ministers Aryeh Deri and Yaakov Litzman.

The change points to the political difficulties Israel has encountered in battling the virus based on health considerations alone, despite the death count passing 1,000 over the weekend and the high number of new confirmed cases recorded daily.

When news of the lockdown first broke the haredim quickly mobilized. The mayors of Bnei Brak, Beitar, Elad and Emanuel, all with high haredi populations, sent a letter to Netanyahu promising to hold him responsible.

“As the one who managed this crisis, you never bothered to hear our voice, understand the hardships or try to promote real initiatives to flatten the morbidity curve,” they wrote.

The haredim warned they wouldn’t cooperate with the government with the deputy mayor of Bnei Brak speaking of “rage erupting in the streets.”

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a prominent leader in the haredi community, had announced last week that the yeshivot, or Jewish seminaries, should remain open, citing a “fear of massive damage to Torah study.”

He also said that testing for coronavirus takes away valuable time from study and urged school administrators not to quarantine those students who had been exposed to virus carriers. Thousands of yeshiva students are currently in quarantine.

However, he meant this to apply only to yeshivot where students sleep in dorms. In high school yeshivot, where students return home, he directed that testing be continued.

The haredim make up a critical part of Netanyahu’s government through their votes for coalition partners United Torah Judaism and Shas. It was likely out of fear of alienating this important constituency that he called for a softening of the restrictions.

The Ministerial Committee for Restricted Areas on Sunday evening therefore approved a watered-down version of the lockdown. It announced a night curfew would be imposed in 40 ‘red’ localities between 7:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.

Netanyahu, in a statement on Sunday, said, “In the last 24 hours, another 10 cities have been added to the list of red cities and we have already reached 40 red cities.

“In light of this, the professional elements have recommended that night curfews be imposed on these cities and that their education systems be closed, in addition to the restrictions on gatherings.”

The actual list of localities that will fall under a night curfew has not been finalized. The current number of red zones listed on Monday morning had risen to 42.

The limits on schooling will impact 467,000 students in those areas, according to Israel Hayom. For some, the school year never started. For others, the school year will abruptly stop.