Israeli Police Probed for Turning Blind Eye to ultra-Orthodox COVID-19 Rule Breaches

The investigation comes after Haaretz revealed the police had struck a deal with ultra-Orthodox groups to allow them to congregate on Sukkot

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
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Outgoing Commissioner Motti Cohen and Jerusalem District Commander Doron Yadid, August 2020.
Outgoing Commissioner Motti Cohen and Jerusalem District Commander Doron Yadid, August 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

The Justice Ministry’s department for investigating police misconduct has opened an investigation to determine whether police officers in Jerusalem reached an agreement with ultra-Orthodox groups, allowing them to congregate over the Sukkot holiday in violation of coronavirus regulations as long as no documentation was leaked from such events.

The investigation was launched following a report in Haaretz three months ago. The officers are suspected of sending false reports to their commanding officers regarding the true situation in these ultra-Orthodox communities, or of not reporting some of the events. The opening of this investigation was first reported on the Kikar HaShabbat Haredi-oriented website.

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The police responded by saying that the matter was under investigation, which precluded them from commenting on it. They added that the police would continue to enforce regulations anywhere violations were detected, in Jerusalem or elsewhere.

The Haaretz report described how, several days before the Sukkot holiday, Commander Shimon Marciano, who heads the police station involved in this matter, held talks with representatives of several ultra-Orthodox communities in the city, including the Toldot Aharon and Toldot Yitzhak Yaakov communities. He reached an understanding with them, whereby they would be allowed to hold events attended by thousands on every evening of the seven-day holiday, with the police turning a blind eye as long as no documentation of the events was released. This is what in fact transpired, with large police forces located in the vicinity without interfering with the events. Marciano is not one of the suspects in this affair for now.

The person working with Marciano in this case was the person in charge of policing Haredi communities, Superintendent Yigal Yaakobov, who was summoned for questioning by the unit investigating police misconduct. The Jerusalem district commander, Maj. Gen. Doron Yadid, dismissed Yaakobov two months ago because of this affair, after several officers in his unit had given testimony. Two of the officers had provided documentation from areas in which events had been held after these had ended, in order to claim to their commanders that no gatherings had taken place.

After Yaakobov’s dismissal, several Haredi community leaders in Jerusalem made a special appeal to Yadid, asking him to retract his decision, arguing that collaboration with Yaakobov had been a significant factor in the good relations between the police and their communities.

So far there is no documentation of those events, and police sources have used this fact in order to tell journalists that there was no way to prove that widespread violations had occurred in Haredi communities. In contrast to previous years, Hasidic leaders did not allow people from outside their communities to attend these events and warned participants not to document events.

The police had earlier denied these reports, claiming that they were false. They said that the meetings had been held in order to foster cooperation between the police and these communities. “As part of police preparations for the holiday season and the dissemination of information, police representatives met various public representatives with the purpose of promoting collaboration, and to explain the significance of violating the regulations, as well as enforcement,” said the police at the time.

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