Calls to seal off ultra-Orthodox areas add to Israel’s virus tensions


Purposely ignorant, fundamentalist religions, continue to spread disease and death throughout the word.

Rules enforcement highlights problem of getting message across to minority community

Oliver Holmes and Quique Kierszenbaum in Jerusalem

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Bnei Brak.
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Bnei Brak, which Israel has now declared a restricted zone. Photograph: Amir Cohen/Reuters

It wasn’t a typical police operation. Two Israeli officers were to go undercover, although not posing as drug dealers or arms traffickers. For this particular assignment, they were to disguise themselves as ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Their mission on Friday was to bust an illegal gathering in a synagogue. People were praying together, a practice that is now against the law in the era of the coronavirus. Once the officers got inside to confirm the crowd, more units barged in and dispersed people.

Forces left the area, according to police, but: “An hour later, it was reported that people had returned again.” At that point, officers handed out fines amounting to nearly £4,000.

The operation in the county’s north was one small part of a sometimes fruitless nationwide effort to impose Covid-19 restrictions on a deeply religious and often cut-off community that has been slow, or even opposed, to change their way of life.

Israeli soldiers deliver food to residents in Bnei Brak.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Israeli soldiers deliver food to residents in Bnei Brak. Photograph: Amir Cohen/Reuters

Officials fear the result has been an explosion of cases in neighbourhoods populated with the minority, which makes up more than 12% of Israel’s nine million citizens.

In the most extreme case, an entire city, Bnei Brak, has been surrounded with barricades. Israel’s cabinet declared the city a “restricted zone” last week, sending in 1,000 police officers who blocked residents from leaving except under special circumstances. The army has also be deployed to deliver food to the elderly.

One medical expert estimated up to 38% of Bnei Brak’s roughly 200,000 mostly ultra-Orthodox inhabitants could be infected, significantly higher than the national average.

Many Israeli ultra-Orthodox live in poor, often congested areas with large families where infections can spread rapidly. Some religious leaders have refused to order their people to stay inside long after the rest of the country was locking down.

When a population are told the Torah will protect them there is no motivation to comply with orders Jessica Apple, Haaretz

Chaim Kanievsky, an influential rabbi, had initially refused to close packed synagogues and religious seminaries, where hundreds of boys and men gather daily. “The Torah protects and saves,” the 92-year-old said. Only in late March did the rabbi relent, calling for lone prayer.

There have also been several anecdotal reports that ultra-Orthodox communities in other countries, including the UK, are suffering an above-average infection rate.

In Israel, the outbreaks have deepened entrenched grievances between secular and religious populations that have festered since the state’s founding.

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis, known in Hebrew as Haredim, or “God-fearers”, occupy a unique role, with laws allowing them to avoid military draft and live off stipends while they study religion, leading to secular resentment.

Jewish leaders fear ultra-Orthodox Jews have missed isolation message

Many abhor Israel’s interference in their traditions. Some are vehemently anti-Zionist, rejecting the country whose Jewish majority is mostly secular, which has frustrated government coronavirus efforts when public trust and obedience are vital.

Attempts by police to enforce quarantine restrictions in religious neighbourhoods of Jerusalem have led to sometimes violent standoffs. Paramedics have been hit with rocks.

“When a population that regards its religious leaders as infallible are told that the Torah will protect them and that the secular law enforcement agencies are Nazis and anti-Semites, there is no motivation to comply with orders,” wrote Jessica Apple in the progressive local Haaretz newspaper; her article also called for ultra-Orthodox jews to wear face masks.

Now the cabinet is discussing using the Bnei Brak lockdown as a model for other outbreaks, and local media have cited an unnamed health official as saying more ultra-Orthodox areas could also be sealed off.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish burial society workers with a coronavirus victim outside the Shamgar funeral house in Jerusalem.
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Ultra-Orthodox Jewish burial society workers with a coronavirus victim outside the Shamgar funeral house in Jerusalem. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, an ultra-Orthodox Jerusalemite who used to take part in anti-government demonstrations, said some rabbis took a “long time to internalise the severity of the situation … and they truly believe that studying Torah is more important than anything else.”

However, he said the government was also slow to communicate with more radical parts of the community, many of whom have no internet, television, radio, smartphones or even newspapers and usually get news from posters stuck to noticeboards.

Meshi-Zahav, who runs a volunteer emergency medicine group that has been helping coordinate the Covid-19 response, has written posters on the rules. Still, he added: “It is not our job, it should be the Ministry of Health’s responsibility.”

He said he was concerned about growing anger. “In normal times, there are discussions on this, but now the seculars are saying, ‘you are infecting us’. This is terrible, there is a lot of antisemitism around the world, and now the seculars are doing this?”

“There are things they say that are correct, but to accuse a whole community? To generalise? Some people are using the situation to attack the Haredim.”

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man kisses the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem’s Old City Marko Djurica/ File Photo

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Israeli rabbi: Coronavirus outbreak is divine punishment for gay pride parades


Meir Mazuz falsely claims Arab states spared, because they ‘don’t have this evil inclination’; modern Orthodox group blasts him for ‘inciting against the LGBT community’

By TOI staff

Ultra bigot Rabbi Meir Mazuz speaks at a press conference the 'Yachad' political party in Bnei Brak, March 27, 2019. (Yehuda Haim/Flash90)

An Orthodox Israeli rabbi has claimed the spread of the deadly coronavirus in Israel and around the world is divine retribution for gay pride parades.

The remarks by Rabbi Meir Mazuz, reported by the Israel Hayom daily on Sunday, drew condemnation from rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, which urged him to apologize.

An influential Sephardic rabbi, Mazuz is the former spiritual leader of the defunct ultra-nationalist and homophobic Yachad party, and is head of the Kiseh Rahamim yeshiva in Bnei Brak.

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On Saturday night he gave a talk at the yeshiva, during which, according to the report, he said a pride parade is “a parade against nature, and when someone goes against nature, the one who created nature takes revenge on him.”

Mazuz said that countries all over the world are being called to account because of their gay pride events, “except for the Arab countries that don’t have this evil inclination.” That was why, he claimed — falsely suggesting there has only been one case of infection in the Arab world — they have not seen a spread of coronavirus.

The outbreak in Iran, one of the most serious in any country, he explained as being due to the wicked ways of Iranians and “their hatred of Israel.”

According to the newspaper, Mazuz had earlier claimed Israel would be protected from the coronavirus.

“It is regrettable that in times like these when the whole world comes together to eradicate coronavirus, Rabbi Mazuz finds it appropriate to blame the virus’s outbreak on the LGBTQ community. We harshly condemn his statements and urge him to apologize,” the ADL’s Israel branch said in a statement.

The modern Orthodox Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah group also condemned Mazuz’s remarks.

“Using this time of need to incite against the LGBT community is unacceptable. Trying to get people to return to religion cannot come at the price of harming others,” it said in a statement.

Israel has thus far had 39 cases of coronavirus, including 14 new cases announced on Sunday night, but no deaths.

Mazuz is no stranger to controversy or hateful rhetoric. In November 2015 he claimed gay pride parades and other forms of “sinful behavior” were the reason terrorists murdered Eitam and Naama Henkin on October 1, 2015.

At a memorial event for the Henkins, Mazuz said that their shooting death at the hands of Palestinian terrorists had been a form of divine retribution.

In 2016 Mazuz attributed the collapse of a Tel Aviv parking garage that killed six people and an explosion that destroyed the Amos-6 satellite to Shabbat desecration.

Israel has two major gay pride parades each year, one in Tel Aviv and another in the capital, Jerusalem, which is billed as promoting tolerance.

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Life and Loathing in Greater Israel: A Review of Max Blumenthal’s ‘Goliath’


Life and Loathing in Greater Israel: A Review of Max Blumenthal’s ‘Goliath’

by Jim Miles

Goliath – Life and loathing in Greater Israel.  Max Blumenthal, Nation Books, 2013

From Foreign Policy Journal

http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/

Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel

This is a powerfully written book, a mixture of current events, historical data, and personal anecdotal comments and stories.  Throughout there are pervasive themes that clearly outline the nature of the Israeli state as it exists today. From May 2009 up to early 2013, Max Blumenthal passed “many prolonged stays in the Holy Land,” from which he derived this current assessment.

The over-riding themes—and they tend to intermingle within the right wing ideologies of the Netanyahu/Lieberman government—are all based on the demographic threat that Israel perceives to be the main problem, which has always been seen as a problem from the earliest Zionists.

While in the past there were some at least minimally effective two-country advocates, the current situation has developed into one of over-riding racist state fascism.  This expresses itself in the ongoing settlements developments, now more overtly antagonistic to the Palestinians; the many race based laws prohibiting Palestinian participation in society, accompanied by overt acts of racism to Palestinians and African refugees; and open expressions of hostility indicating the desire to simply get rid of both groups.

The idea of a “Jewish and democratic state” also comes to a crashing halt as there are many instances of political leaders essentially indicating that they would choose Jewishness before democracy.

The first section of the work provides the current events background that gives rise to the Netanyahu/Lieberman