Beit Shemesh man indicted for assaulting cops enforcing virus lockdown measures
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Beit Shemesh man indicted for assaulting cops enforcing virus lockdown measures

Man was part of group of ultra-Orthodox residents who gathered near a synagogue against health restrictions; he is accused of refusing to disperse, cursing and spitting at officer

Police officers close synagogues and disperse public gatherings in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Beit Shemesh on March 31, 2020 (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)
Police officers close synagogues and disperse public gatherings in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Beit Shemesh on March 31, 2020 (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

A 48-year-old resident of Beit Shemesh was indicted Friday for assaulting a policeman and obstructing police work, after clashing with officers over his refusal to obey Health Ministry guidelines during the coronavirus crisis.

The man was brought before a judge at Jerusalem’s Magistrate’s Court. Prosecutors said the man took part in a prohibited gathering Tuesday alongside dozens of others near a synagogue in the city.

He shouted “Nazis” at the officers as they sought to disperse the crowd and repeatedly refused to leave the scene, while cursing at law enforcement officials, according to the charges. At one point he is accused of spitting at a policewoman standing before him.

Though the majority of ultra-Orthodox Israelis are now following government restrictions, which have prohibited all public gatherings and ordered many public institutions including synagogues shut to prevent the spread of coronavirus, many initially flouted the new regulations, holding mass weddings and funerals while ignoring social distancing rules. And some have responded violently to police attempts to enforce the law.

In recent weeks as limitations have increased, police have on several occasions clashed with residents of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood, with some hurling rocks at officers and on one occasion at Magen David Adom medics performing a coronavirus test.

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis dance at a wedding in Beit Shemesh on March 18, 2020 (screenshot: Channel 12)

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who is himself Haredi and who was diagnosed with the virus on Thursday, has said such attacks, while only attributable to a “handful” of residents, run “contrary to Jewish law and harms those who are performing holy work for the public’s health and security.”

Bnei Brak, a largely ultra-Orthodox city, has now become the nation’s most severe hotspot of coronavirus, with the second-highest number of infections of all Israeli cities in total numbers, and the highest rate by far per capita.

On Friday, following a cabinet order, police began enforcing a lockdown of the city, preventing most people from entering or exiting as authorities rush to contain the outbreak.

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