In Israel, Yet Another Political Lockdown

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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The streets of Jerusalem before the imminent lockdown, January 6, 2020
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

At midnight the new regulations approved by the cabinet to tighten the lockdown will take effect for two weeks. On paper Israel is already under lockdown, but in effect the state has not been fully enforcing these regulations.

The infection statistics have skyrocketed in recent days and the government has only itself to blame. How can you reduce the rate of infections with a lockdown that’s not being enforced? Intensifying the lockdown is the collective price Israeli citizens must pay for poor enforcement for the past two weeks.

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The bitter truth is that the government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu is incapable of implementing a differential policy, without which the coronavirus’ spread cannot be curbed without shutting down the entire country. Netanyahu’s political calculations, particularly his dependence on the ultra-Orthodox parties, prevents him from managing the coronavirus crisis efficiently. That’s why Israel is being dragged time after time into full, “equal” lockdowns, because it is afraid to lock down only those areas with high infection rates.

The thing is that in those areas where the government really has no authority to impose differential regulations, there is also no full observance of the lockdown. Among the new limitations decided on this week is to close all schools except for special education frameworks and those serving teens at risk. Like a broken record, the cabinet decision was followed by an order from the leader of the non-Hassidic Haredim, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, to keep the Haredi Talmud Torah schools open even though the rules forbid this as of Friday.

The Haredi education system has been operating for months in violation of the rules and continues to operate as usual even though all the Haredi cities have been defined as “red” zones, with high incidences of infection. Under the regulations, in those circumstances, pupils from fifth grade and up are supposed to do distance-learning from home. But the statistics of the rate of illness presented to the rabbi made no difference. In fact, Rabbi Kanievsky backtracked from an agreement he had made a few hours earlier with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon to close the Haredi schools in the city.

When the Health Ministry official responsible for the Haredi community, Roni Numa, said this week that operating Haredi schools in violation of the coronavirus restrictions contributed to the rise in infections, he was only affirming what everyone already knew. We didn’t need Numa to understand that the state is not enforcing the regulations in that school system for political reasons. Why should Netanyahu take a risk by undermining the only partners in his right-wing boat who aren’t shooting holes in it, certainly before an election?

At this rate Israel will be marking time between stringent and less-stringent lockdowns until the vaccination campaign is completed. As usual, the public will pay the price.

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

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