Jerusalem mayor: Anti-Netanyahu protests more dangerous than huge Haredi wedding

Moshe Lion claims demonstrations of thousands pose a greater health risk than huge ultra-Orthodox marriage that drew outcry

A screenshot from a video said to show thousands of ultra-Orthodox at a wedding in Jerusalem, in violation of coronavirus restrictions, on August 5, 2020. (Screenshot/Channel 12)
A screenshot from a video said to show thousands of ultra-Orthodox at a wedding in Jerusalem, in violation of coronavirus restrictions, on August 5, 2020. (Screenshot/Channel 12)

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion on Thursday pushed back against criticism of a mass Hasidic wedding, claiming the weekly protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the capital constituted a more grave health violation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

He spoke a day after thousands of people attended a wedding for the grandson of the leader of the Belz Hasidic sect in Jerusalem. Under the existing government rules, weddings are capped at 20 people outdoors, while protests are exempt from limitations though social distancing must be observed.

“We must enforce the rules. But it isn’t fair. Every Thursday and Saturday there are more serious violations. Is the entire area of Balfour [the street Netanyahu lives on in the Rehavia neighborhood] free of coronavirus? When it comes to a Haredi area, there are headlines and photos right way. I certainly don’t support it, but let’s not enforce things selectively,” Lion told the Kan public broadcaster.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion speaks with Shimon Eini as he celebrates his 100th birthday with neighbors and family outside his home in Jerusalem, as Israel celebrates its 72nd Independence Day under lockdown due to the coronavirus, April 29, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I watch what is happening at Balfour with great pain,” added Lion, who lives nearby. “The Health Ministry and police explain to us, from morning till night, the ban on gatherings — yet we accept this gathering with equanimity, as if there is nothing we can do. I respect the right to protest, but we are in a difficult time.”

Israel has struggled in recent months to contain the coronavirus outbreak, confirming close to 2,000 new infections a day. The country had 25,649 active cases as of Wednesday night, according to Health Ministry figures.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, on July 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi)

The protests against Netanyahu’s alleged corruption and handling of the pandemic have grown in recent weeks, with some of the demonstrations drawing over 10,000.

At the Wednesday night Belz wedding, attendees were supposed to be divided into “capsules,” or small groups of people, with dividers between them, Channel 12 reported, but the footage appeared to show people at the event packed closely together. Most were also not wearing face masks. There were conflicting reports about whether the event was held indoors or outdoors, but video said to be from the scene appeared to show attendees in an open air structure. Government rules limit indoor gatherings to 10 people and outdoors to 20.

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