Editorial |

Hasidic Pilgrimage to Ukraine Pits Netanyahu Against Coronavirus Czar – and Common Sense

Haaretz Editorial
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Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish pilgrims pray at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav on the eve of the Rosh Hashanah holiday in Uman, Ukraine, September 20, 2017.
Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish pilgrims pray at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav on the eve of the Rosh Hashanah holiday in Uman, Ukraine, September 20, 2017.Credit: Valentyn Ogirenko / REUTERS
Haaretz Editorial

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu made it clear again this week that he is not about to change his mind regarding the Hasidic pilgrimage to Uman and even hinted he’d resign if his stance isn’t accepted. “When I see I’m not given all the means to reduce the incidence of infection then of course I’ll have nothing to do in this position,” he said, concerning the planned mass pilgrimage to the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman in Ukraine.

As one who has undertaken the task of reducing the incidence of infection and doing all he can to prevent a general lockdown, Gamzu said what any sensible person understands. “Does it make any sense to allow 80 flights from Israel to Uman?”

He suggested stopping the direct charter flights to Uman and enabling a few thousand worshipers to get to the city in Ukraine independently and be put in quarantine as soon as they return.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also knows this is the right thing to do. Like Gamzu, Netanyahu understands that despite the desire to facilitate the annual Rosh Hashanah flight to Uman of Bratslav Hasidim, there is no way to maintain the social distancing of tens of thousands of people crowded into a relatively small space.

But reasonable decisions don’t serve the Prime Minister’s narrow politics. The only thing that interests him is not to mess with the ultra-Orthodox parties. Not only did he go behind their backs to get the Ukrainian president to do what he himself lacked the courage to do – restrict the worshippers’ entry into the country – but when the Ukrainian president’s office issued a statement announcing this, Netanyahu’s office denied his involvement and left Gamzu to take the ultra-Orthodox leaders’ wrath.

Minister Yaakov Litzman also hurled insults at Gamzu and demanded he be fired, while Netanyahu’s crony Miki Zohar asked why Gamzu wasn’t objecting to the demonstrations outside the prime minister’s official residence. Ultimately, Netanyahu’s bluff was discovered and he found himself in trouble with both the coronavirus czar and the Haredim.

The Uman affair is an example of Netanyahu’s overall failure in dealing with the coronavirus crisis – a failure with health and economic consequences felt personally by all Israelis. That’s how it is when a state is in the hands of an irresponsible leader who is interested in nothing but his political and legal future.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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