Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t condemn the fact that some 2,000 Hasidim attended the funeral for the rabbinical leader of the Pittsburgh sect in Ashdod on Monday. He didn’t condemn the fact that during this funeral, Hasidim clashed with police. He also didn’t condemn the fact that hundreds of Hasidim refused to leave the area. Netanyahu said nothing about the fact that even though police set up barriers to separate the Hasidim into capsules, hundreds arrived at the site in a way that made it impossible to observe the rules of social distancing. Nor did he comment on the fact that a permit was given for this mass funeral procession at all, amid a lockdown that is being strictly enforced on all other Israelis.
Netanyahu also didn’t condemn the fact that a member of his cabinet, Gila Gamliel, tried to avoid Health Ministry contact tracers after being diagnosed with the coronavirus. He didn’t condemn the fact that she then tried to mislead them by saying it was her driver who infected her. He didn’t demand her resignation despite the fact that she broke the rules barring intercity travel during the lockdown by driving from Tel Aviv to Tiberias, and then attended services indoors at a synagogue there (Chaim Levinson, Monday’s Haaretz).
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Every day, Israelis are exposed to this double standard. The prime minister engages in unbridled, irresponsible incitement against demonstrations and seeks to impose even more restrictions on Israelis, including draconian restrictions such as forbidding them to go more than 200 meters from their homes and shutting down schools and small businesses for a lengthy period. Yet at the same time, he allows thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews to thumb their noses at the lockdown rules. He allows people close to him – like his political advisers Topaz Luk and Reuven Azar – to blatantly violate the regulations every Israelis are supposed to obey. And now he’s allowing a member of his cabinet to remain in her post even though she lied to state agencies responsible for the public’s health.
Netanyahu’s weakness as a leader during a time of crisis has been revealed time and again. He’s in a political bind with the ultra-Orthodox, since without their support, he would have to give up his job as prime minister; consequently, he’s incapable of forcing them to obey the regulations. He’s dependent on his closest aides, some of whom run his digital incitement machine against his political rivals. And he has trouble asking a minister like Gamliel to resign, because how could he ask her to do what he himself, despite having been indicted in three criminal cases, refuses to do?
Israelis are groaning under a lockdown that harms both their livelihoods and their most basic rights as a result of a global pandemic. At one of the most difficult moments in the state’s history, they deserve a leader whom they can trust and a leadership whose decisions will be substantive and devoid of narrow political interests. Netanyahu and his government do not meet these criteria.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.