Blue and White accuses Likud of blocking effort to boost COVID enforcement

Claiming Netanyahu’s faction is thwarting law to increase fines for rule violators, Gantz’s party decides to hold up committee required to authorize lockdown extension

Police enforce a lockdown at a temporary checkpoint at the entrance to the ultra-Orthodox town of Elad on January 18, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Police enforce a lockdown at a temporary checkpoint at the entrance to the ultra-Orthodox town of Elad on January 18, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The Blue and White party accused Likud on Wednesday of hampering efforts to expand enforcement of the nationwide lockdown as agreed upon by the parties.

Government ministers on Tuesday voted to extend the national lockdown by an additional 10 days, but Blue and White conditioned its support for the move on Likud’s agreement to increase police enforcement in locales with high virus rates, to expand assistance to small businesses and to immediately move to vaccinate children ages 16-18 in order for them to be able to take their matriculation exams in person as scheduled. In addition, the parties had agreed to pass Knesset legislation to raise fines against violators of the health guidelines and lockdown.

According to Blue and White, Likud has delayed efforts to convene the Knesset in order to avoid raising fines — due to political considerations.

“Just yesterday, Netanyahu told the cabinet that he was ready to pass Knesset legislation to increase [fines]. He has since flipflopped and it is clear to everyone why,” Blue and White said in a statement, hinting that the premier had caved to pressure from his traditional coalition partners, the ultra-Orthodox parties that represent a community that has come under fire in recent months over widespread failure to follow health guidelines.

Police officers during a raid on a yeshiva that opened in violation of the COVID-19 national lockdown regulations, in the Sanhedria neighborhood in Jerusalem, January 19, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In response, Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s party said it had moved to delay convening the Knesset committee tasked with authorizing the cabinet’s decision to extend the lockdown.

A Likud spokesman subsequently issued a statement saying that Blue and White was “playing politics” and that the premier still supported increasing fines.

The Prime Minister’s Office said that Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman had written an official letter to the Knesset speaker requesting that the fines law be promoted “as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile on Wednesday, at least 17 people were said arrested as police worked to enforce a national lockdown in a Jerusalem ultra-Orthodox neighborhood where a school was found to be operating in violation of the closure.

It was the latest in almost daily recent incidents during which police have faced violent resistance to enforcement of the lockdown. Police have recently upped their crackdown on ultra-Orthodox communities following media reports of previous limited enforcement.

One police officer was injured in the head from a stone thrown in his direction. The stone smashed the window of a patrol car as cops arrived at an elementary school operated by the Satmar Hasidic sect in the Ezrat Torah neighborhood of the capital, police said in a statement.

The smashed window of a police cruiser caused by a stone thrown at the vehicle during protests against enforcement of a national lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Jerusalem, January 20, 2021. (Israel Police)

Police said they also raided a synagogue in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit and fined dozens of people found inside. Under the rules of the lockdown, no more than five people are permitted to gather indoors and no more than 10 outdoors.

Wednesday’s clashes followed violence the day before as police closed a yeshiva in the Sanhedria ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem, arresting 20 people during street scuffles against the measure, and shuttered another yeshiva in the largely ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak.

Netanyahu on Monday asked Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a major leader of the Haredi community, to keep schools shuttered if the lockdown is extended, according to Hebrew-language media reports. On Tuesday the government voted to extend the lockdown by ten days until the end of the month.

Channel 12 reported Tuesday that Kanievsky has quietly given orders that the Talmud Torah elementary schools remain open, telling close associates that God is angry that Torah study has been interrupted and that is the reason for recent “tragedies” — an apparent reference to the death toll of over 4,100 since the start of the virus outbreak early last year.

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