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Clashes in Bnei Brak as police shut down synagogue that violated virus rules

Owner of hall fined after dozens of worshipers found crowded inside; rioters throw rocks at police vehicles, tell officers to ‘go back to Germany’

Police operate in Bnei Brak after a synagogue was found operating in contravention of virus regulations, November 17, 2020 (Screen grab/Twitter)
Police operate in Bnei Brak after a synagogue was found operating in contravention of virus regulations, November 17, 2020 (Screen grab/Twitter)

Protesters clashed with police in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak on Tuesday evening when officers shut down a synagogue that was operating in contravention of virus regulations.

Police said in a statement that protesters gathered in the area after officers discovered that a closed hall held dozens of worshipers crowded in despite regulations that permit only up to 10 people to pray together indoors.

Police said that a number of rioters threw rocks at police vehicles.

According to Channel 12 news, some individuals shouted derogatory phrases at the law enforcement officials, including the Nazi reference “Go back to Germany.”

There were no reports of any arrests, but the individual in charge of operating the hall was fined NIS 5,000 (approximately $1,500).

Illustrative — Ultra Orthodox Jews praying outside a synagogue in Bnei Brak on October 14, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Since the start of the pandemic, synagogue worship has been one of the activities linked to the spread of the virus.

Under the initial plan for exiting from the second national lockdown, houses of worship were supposed to stay shut until November 15. However, instead ministers voted to allow them to reopen on November 1, with a limit of 10 worshipers indoors and 20 worshipers outdoors.

The clashes came as shoppers packed strip malls across the country as the open-air shopping centers reopened in low-infection areas after months of closure, leading health officials to fear a virus resurgence that could force renewed restrictions.

Long lines and dense crowds formed outside stores in shopping centers in “green” zones as people waited to enter the stores, which are required to limit the number of customers inside. In many cases, customers did not adhere to social distancing rules, requiring police officers to step in.

Some of the stores closed down after owners concluded it was impossible to maintain the distancing guidelines issued by the government.

People shop in Bilu Center, in Kiryat Ekron, November 17, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Health Ministry officials are deeply frustrated by the new steps easing the restrictions, Channel 12 reported, and are warning that a surge in infections will force their reversal within two or three weeks.

Officials have reportedly expressed outrage that restrictions are being eased even as the basic reproduction rate — the average number of people each virus carrier infects — has topped 1.0, when 0.8 had been defined as the threshold beyond which restrictions would stop being eased. On Tuesday morning, Israel’s reproduction rate stood at a worrying 1.08, according to the Health Ministry.

They also decried that, contrary to previous plans, the government was not waiting two weeks between phases of reopening to ensure that certain steps weren’t causing infections to spike.

Unnamed sources told Channel 12 that although the number of people infected with the virus was not currently worryingly high, there were concerns that further easing of restrictions could lead to a loss of control over the outbreak.

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