Enforcement Is the Way Out of Israel's Coronavirus Emergency

Haaretz Editorial
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Israeli police install a barrier on a road to Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, amid measures put in place by Israeli authorities in a bid to stop the spread of Covid-19, on September 8, 2020.
Israeli police install a barrier on a road to Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, amid measures put in place by Israeli authorities in a bid to stop the spread of Covid-19, on September 8, 2020.Credit: AFP
Haaretz Editorial

The number of new coronavirus cases is breaking records every day, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to feel it’s most important to hold more and more press conferences to attack the police and the prosecution. Defendant Netanyahu has failed to halt the spread of the virus, and he’s busy looking for someone to blame, fleeing responsibility and being divisive.

After the shameful capitulation to the ultra-Orthodox mayors, which led Netanyahu to put off the cabinet discussion where a decision on a full closure on some of the “red” cities with high infection rates was due to take place, two nights ago a night curfew went into effect on 40 “red” communities. This included restrictions on schools, which were supposed to begin distance learning.

But on Wednesday it emerged that the schools, yeshivas and Talmud Torah schools in “red” Bnei Brak and “red” neighborhoods in Ashdod and Beit Shemesh opened and held classes. This is an intolerable situation that makes all the work of the coronavirus czar and the general effort to stop the spread of the virus useless.

Only last week, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, who is the dean of the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, president of Degel Hatorah’s Council of Torah Sages and president of the Council of Yeshivas, declared that studies should continue as usual despite the guidelines. In Ashdod, preschools and schools for both girls and boys were opened in the Gimmel, Zayin and Het neighborhoods in violation of the guidelines. In Beit Shemesh, most of the private Haredi schools opened as usual.

It isn’t clear whether the reason for all this is the lack of trust in the coronavirus government, the power the Haredim have to threaten Netanyahu, a combination of both, or something else entirely, but the reality is that the government has zero deterrent power.

In such a situation there must be enforcement of the restrictions, but it doesn’t look like anyone is too eager to instruct the police to do this. Except for giving out fines for not wearing masks in public, the police are doing nothing to implement the regulations. Mass events and even weddings continue to take place, while public figures get questionable exemptions from the required quarantine period; instead of setting an example for the public, they are undermining public confidence.

Without authority, without the public’s confidence, with only partial enforcement of the partial closures and given that the incidence of infection is getting worse, it looks like Netanyahu is marching Israel toward a nationwide lockdown by the end of the month. The assessment is that without a lockdown, it will be impossible to significantly bring down the number of daily infections, which has reached around 3,000 in recent days. Instead of empty talk about a complete lockdown, the government must make sure that the current rules are enforced. It’s inconceivable that the entire populace should be punished because of Netanyahu’s weakness.

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