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Netanyahu Turned ultra-Orthodox Jews Into Enemies of the People

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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An ultra-Orthodox man walks along the streets of Bnei Brak amid Israel's second nationwide coronavirus lockdown, September 8, 2020
An ultra-Orthodox man walks along the streets of Bnei Brak amid Israel's second nationwide coronavirus lockdown, September 8, 2020Credit: Moti Milrod
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

After the fall of his third government, which was set up in 2013 on the bayonets of the brotherhood of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, Benjamin Netanyahu determined never to abandon his fundamentalist partners again. They in return did not abandon him.

It wasn’t merely an instrumental alliance, but one that reflected sentiment: Until recently Netanyahu was a very popular figure on ultra-Orthodox streets. This popularity fit in with the low trust in law enforcement agencies, the romantic “persecution” narrative attributed to him and a racist, right-wing sentiment that loved Netanyahu’s lashing out at the Arabs.

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Netanyahu’s iron-cast alliance with the Haredim is now turning against him. His refusal to enable local lockdowns as part of the “traffic light” plan, his desire to benefit the “red” fundamentalist cities, the state’s inability to enforce the directives on certain parts of the ultra-Orthodox society – all this is turning it into the most hated group in Israel, the one to blame for spreading the coronavirus and endangering the health system with collapse.

This is the context for the radical statement made by Ma’ayanei Hayeshua Hospital director Prof. Motti Ravid on Thursday. In a radio interview, which led to his resignation, Ravid said: “I don’t understand the connection between faith, between Judaism, between religion, and what they’re doing. ... There’s a sense (among them) of me and me alone, nobody else matters. They were taught to get everything and not to give anything for years, and this is one of the results.”

In the spirit of these days, in which consciousness is being sprayed all over the place and less presentable materials are leaking from sealed barrels in the basement, Prof. Ravid expressed a spreading anger, which is also seeping into the right-wing public, despite the sympathy to religion and fundamentalists that characterizes parts of it.

The hatred for the ultra-Orthodox community that rages here is reminiscent of the hatred toward Arabs, and it will increase the more the disease spreads and the clearer the Haredim's part becomes in the general spread of the virus and in taking up the health system’s resources. Even dyed in the wool Bibi-ists, who wouldn’t dream of it a few weeks ago, are allowing themselves to be angry at the Haredim.

Blaming all the Haredim is terrible, because alongside obtuse, extremist Hasidic sects that hold mass events with astonishing recklessness, there are many who try to follow the directives despite difficult housing and living conditions. Sources in the ultra-Orthodox community estimate that at least half of its members adhere to the directives.

Anyone touring Bnei Brak between lockdowns could see whole families wearing masks, including the children, sights you don’t see even in Tel Aviv’s streets, and keeping strict distance especially in shops, health clinics, pharmacies and other places.

But who sees them or hears them?

Netanyahu’s failure when it comes to the Haredi community and its elected officials from the beginning of the crisis has left them no chance. They are locked in disease traps as a result of one Hasidic sect or another’s rash behavior, and the ultra-Orthodox community as a whole is breaking off from Israeli society like a vast plank of ice detaching from a glacier.

In this context, the failure of leadership by the fundamentalist lawmakers is also glaring. If nobody in Haredi society listens to them, but only to certain rabbis; if they can’t advocate to such a large part of their voters the harsh policy imposed by the prime minister – their most loyal ally – then what’s the point of their existence? The amendment to the coronavirus law, which was intended to restrict the demonstrations and not the prayers, has strengthened the anti-Haredi sentiment even more.

The demonstrators against Netanyahu are still making the Likudniks’ blood boil, and violent assaults on protesters have horrifically become routine.

But since the amendment was passed, the toxic discourse around the demonstrations has diminished somewhat, and all the hatred is now directed at the ultra-Orthodox public. Thus, with his own hands, Netanyahu has turned his allies into enemies of the people. Them too.

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