Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed, for now, in his attempt to make the protests against him illegal. The many reservations filed by lawmakers have prevented the Knesset from ratifying certain proposals on time, so the tight lockdown went into effect without the clause on restricting demonstrations.
The disgraceful attempt to push through emergency regulations – which would have prevented the demonstration Saturday outside the prime minister’s residence – was also blocked, for now. Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party vetoed the idea, and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit also expressed his objections.
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This is good news for anyone following Netanyahu’s cynical attempts to exploit the pandemic to violate basic democratic rights and suppress protests, even though these attempts reflect his failure in handling the coronavirus crisis. The attempt to create parity between demonstrations outdoors, with the participation of a few thousand people, and massive prayers in closed spaces is but one more mendacious manipulation by Netanyahu.
The objective is to divide, incite and turn one group against another, all to remain in power. Netanyahu isn’t making a comparison in the service of the campaign against the virus, he only aims to suppress the protest.
It’s commendable that the protesters, who unlike the prime minister are behaving responsibly, are taking care to wear masks and maintain social distancing. It’s also good that ultra-Orthodox leaders are calling on their community to pray outdoors on Yom Kippur. Shas leader Arye Dery said in a radio interview that his party had considered leaving the governing coalition due to plans to restrict prayers on Yom Kippur.
But he added that he intends to pray outdoors that day. Dery isn’t the only one. Rabbi David Yosef, a member of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, urged that synagogues be closed on Yom Kippur, with prayers held outdoors or in private. In a letter, the head of the council, Rabbi Shalom Cohen, called on worshippers to pray in small groups.
Hopefully more such calls will be heard and the public will respond positively. Massive prayers in closed areas, without maintaining social distancing, could have tragic consequences for worshippers, their families and beyond. In the absence of leadership by Netanyahu, with not a shred of confidence in his government, we can only hope that Israelis will behave with the required caution.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.