Police data submitted to the Knesset Interior Committee on Monday shows a clear picture of selective enforcement. There’s no other way to describe the gap between the number of tickets issued for holding prayer services in violation of the coronavirus regulations – a grand total of 171 – and the 53,514 tickets issued for entering a public area, 1,234 tickets issued for opening a business in violation of the rules, and 899 tickets issued for refusing to disperse a gathering.
Despite the mass prayer services held by numerous Hasidic sects in Jerusalem during the recent Jewish holidays, the Jerusalem police have issued only one ticket for praying in violation of the rules since the lockdown began. In contrast, police from the Tel Aviv district, which includes the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, issued 91 tickets for this offense.
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Last week, Haaretz reporter Aaron Rabinowitz broke the story that before the Sukkot holiday, Jerusalem police reached secret understandings with representatives of Hasidic groups in the capital’s Mea She’arim neighborhood. Under those agreements, the Hasidim would be able to observe the holiday as they usually do, including holding mass events, as long as no pictures of them were published. Police denied this. But at an Interior Committee meeting on Sunday, MK Moshe Arbel (Shas) said they were lying.
There’s no need to elaborate on the police’s determination to enforce restrictions on protesters. Both the mainstream media and social media have been flooded with pictures of their brutal enforcement. While not a single police officer could be seen during the mass celebrations at the end of the Simhat Torah holiday, tickets were issued at a demonstration that took place at the same time outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem on Balfour Street.
Absurdly, Israel was dragged into a total lockdown because of the weakness of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who couldn’t risk undermining his political alliance with the ultra-Orthodox by imposing the differential lockdown recommended by coronavirus chief Ronni Gamzu. But Netanyahu thereby simply transferred the cabinet’s weakness against the ultra-Orthodox to the police, who have ignored mass violations or feared to even enter ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and synagogues. Instead of a differential lockdown, Israel received differential enforcement.
Without a permanent commissioner, the police are utterly vulnerable to the destructive effects of the politicization of law enforcement agencies. The Jerusalem police chief, Maj. Gen. Doron Yedid, had already proven where his loyalties lie when he employed an iron fist against the Balfour demonstrators at the explicit, documented request of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana. Now, he is still demonstrating loyalty to the political needs of Netanyahu.
He has been joined by Tel Aviv’s police chief, Maj. Gen. David Bitan, who understood the spirit of the commander and is trying to please Ohana in the hope of becoming the next police commissioner. And Acting Commissioner Motti Cohen knows he’ll never become the permanent commissioner if he insists on equal enforcement.
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The rot in a government headed by a criminal defendant has seeped into the police. And the only people being required to pay the price of this lawlessness – and the tickets – are ordinary Israelis.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.