Despite High Infection Rate, Israeli Haredim Get Few Fines for Breaking COVID Rules

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Israeli police officers questioning people without face masks on the beachfront in Tel Aviv, January 1, 2021.
Israeli police officers questioning people without face masks on the beachfront in Tel Aviv, January 1, 2021.Credit: JACK GUEZ - AFP

As COVID-19 infection rates have skyrocketed in ultra-Orthodox towns and cities, enforcement of pandemic regulations there has been much lower than in other Israeli municipalities, new analysis shows. By contrast, fines were levied at a far higher rate in Arab towns in relation to their number of coronavirus cases.  

The analysis was conducted by the organization Israel Hofsheet (Be Free Israel), which advocates for religious and cultural pluralism, based on statistics provided by the Justice Ministry’s Law Enforcement and Collection System Authority. The information has been collected since the beginning of the pandemic last March. 

The nonprofit’s data show that the number of fines levied for violating coronavirus regulations has been enforced at a greater rate in municipalities where infection rates are lower than in the highly infected Haredi communities.  

“Our analysis proves what anyone who has been watching already knows: the State of Israel has not enforced COVID-19 regulations in the ultra-Orthodox community due to narrow political interests. By doing so, it has done damage to that community, which has been hit especially hard and has paid the price with an especially high number of deaths. And, of course, this has affected the rest of the Israeli population,” said Israel Hofsheet Executive Director Uri Keidar.

The analysis calculated the ratio of fines levied in the country’s municipalities to their rates of infection. The cities and towns with the highest number of fines compared to COVID-19 cases were overwhelmingly Arab municipalities. 

The southern Bedouin town of Tel Sheva topped the list: It’s only had 236 COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the year, but 2,568 fines have been levied. The ratio of fines to cases was 1,088 percent – the highest proportion of any Israeli city or town. 

A man crossing a road next to a billboard calling for people to wear masks in Tel Aviv, January 8, 2021.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

Major “Jewish” municipalities also featured highly on the list of places receiving a much larger number of fines than their proportion of COVID-19 cases. The southern city of Eilat’s ratio was 374 percent; Rosh Pina in northern Israel was 191 percent; Ramle in central Israel was 129 percent; and Dimona in southern Israel was 128 percent.

No predominately ultra-Orthodox city or town appears on the list until the 203rd slot, and all of these towns had a very low number of fines in proportion to cases: the West Bank settlement of Modi’in Ilit was the most drastic example, with 1,131 fines compared to 14,620 cases – making its proportion of fines to cases just 7.7 percent. 

Other predominantly Haredi municipalities at the foot of the list included Bnei Brak, where the ratio was 13 percent; Kfar Habad (14.3 percent), and Betar Ilit (19 percent). 

The analysis comes as public debate rages over the refusal of leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis to comply with government directives, the subsequent reopening of many schools and yeshivas in the Haredi community, and the apparent absence of police intervention to force them to close.

According to the Health Ministry, the ultra-Orthodox community is responsible for 30 percent of all infections across the country, and COVID-19 tests taken by Haredim currently stand at a 20 percent positivity rate. 

Many politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have been reluctant to publicly criticize rabbis and other ultra-Orthodox leaders for failing to protect their communities from the ravages of COVID-19, or advocating for increased enforcement, for fear of alienating the Haredi political parties that are their natural partners in government.

A woman showing her identity card to police officers in Tel Aviv, January 1, 2021.Credit: JACK GUEZ - AFP

Keidar said his organization’s analysis showed that “public health is not the priority” of the country’s leaders, who care to a far greater extent about “the health of the government coalition,” he said. 

“When they go to the polls in the upcoming election on March 23, the citizens of Israel should think about whether these are the priorities they want to see,” he added.

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