Responsibility for the Riots Lies With Netanyahu

Haaretz Editorial
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A policeman reacts during rioting in Bnei Brak on January 25, 2021.
A policeman reacts during rioting in Bnei Brak on January 25, 2021.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Haaretz Editorial

The serious clashes between Haredim and police over the past few days in response to police efforts to crack down on the widespread violations of the lockdown are another, particularly unfortunate chapter in the defective relationship between ultra­-Orthodox society and the State of Israel, which has been corrupted under the governments of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hundreds of Haredim in Jerusalem and Ashdod clashed Sunday with police who arrived because of prayers and studies being conducted in violation of the lockdown guidelines. Four policemen were injured and four suspects were arrested. In Bnei Brak two policeman were assaulted Thursday night. Dozens of residents surrounded them and beat them, and when the policemen tried to flee, they threw rocks at them, opened the doors of their patrol car, smashed its windows and punctured its tires. A policewoman was lightly injured. In response, hundreds of policemen marched into the area for an enforcement operation that was unusual in its force and scope. At least six were arrested.

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The right is hallucinating about imposing sovereignty in the territories and Netanyahu blabbers endlessly about governance, but his government can’t even assert its sovereignty within the state’s borders. This is especially worrisome given that the Haredim now make up between 30 percent to 40 percent of those ill with the coronavirus.

The Haredi parties are central partners in the government, but the rabbis are effectively above the law and the state isn’t enforcing the regulations. On Saturday night the Grand Rabbi of Vizhnitz ordered the opening of all the Hasidic court’s educational institutions, which serve thousands of pupils. This is no surprise when Netanyahu obsequiously asks the grandson of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky (a leader of the Lithuanian Haredim) to ask his grandfather to order his adherents to obey the law of the land. Everyone knows that Netanyahu needs the Haredi parties to stay in power.

The handling of the coronavirus crisis was politically skewed: The state refrained from imposing differential closures and delayed full implementation of the traffic light plan, contrary to the professional recommendations, because Netanyahu wanted to avoid a confrontation with his political partners. Now suddenly the state has decided to enforce regulations, and as expected, police entry into the autonomous Haredi enclaves led to violent confrontations.

The minister responsible for the police, Amir Ohana, tweeted immediately after the Bnei Brak incident that “A response will come, and quickly.” The next day he lowered the volume and stressed that most of the Haredi public obeyed the law and was suffering through no fault of its own. When incitement brings no political benefit, Ohana avoids generalizations and if possible, just ignores things. The police are then forced to pay for the lack of deterrence when the violence gets out of control.

There is an urgent need to heal the relationship between the Haredim and the state. To do so, Netanyahu must be replaced, because he promises the continued capitulation to Haredi blackmail, even at the cost of human lives.

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

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