Haredi MK wants ultra-Orthodox parties to quit coalition over targeted lockdowns

UTJ lawmaker Yisrael Eichler says ministers should temporarily step down until PM ends ‘selective’ closures on ultra-Orthodox areas; ‘Haredi human rights are not expendable’

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man wears a face mask with a yellow star on and raises his hands at a roadblock in the Hephzibah neighborhood in Beit Shemesh that is currently under a lock down in an attempt to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, on July 10, 2020.  (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man wears a face mask with a yellow star on and raises his hands at a roadblock in the Hephzibah neighborhood in Beit Shemesh that is currently under a lock down in an attempt to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, on July 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An ultra-Orthodox lawmaker on Friday called on the two Haredi parties to temporarily step down from the government to protest what he called “selective” targeting of religious neighborhoods for coronavirus lockdowns.

“I call on the Haredi ministers to temporarily quit the government until they remove the selective closures from Haredi neighborhoods,” said Yisrael Eichler, a lawmaker with the United Torah Judaism party.

His call came after lockdowns came into effect at 1 p.m. on Friday in neighborhoods in five towns and cities hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, many of them predominantly ultra-Orthodox areas.

“This is the only way that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will understand that Haredi human rights are not expendable,” he said.

United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler at a Knesset committee meeting on November 8, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

It was not immediately clear how ministers could quit on a temporary basis. The ultra-Orthodox parties have been Netanyahu’s most loyal allies.

Cabinet ministers, including from UTJ and Shas, approved the measure Thursday as the number of new cases in Israel continued to surge.

Parts of Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Lod, Ramle and Kiryat Malachi became “restricted zones” for seven days. The restrictions will be lifted at 8 a.m. on July 17.

A joint statement Thursday evening by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry said entries and exits of the restricted areas will be limited, as well as traffic and business activity inside the areas.

In Jerusalem, the neighborhoods of Romema, Kiryat Sanz and Matersdorf  have been closed; in Beit Shemesh, the areas of Nahala and K’ne Habosem; in Lod, Ganei Ya’ar and Sach; in Ramle, Amidar Beilav; and in Kiryat Malachi, the Rotner area and Chabad neighborhood. They are all majority ultra-Orthodox areas.

In Beit Shemesh dozens of children gathered at a roadblock set up to enforce the closure, calling police “Nazis,” even as officers handed out ice creams to the kids. Men wore masks with Holocaust-era yellow stars to protest the closure.

Other parts of Lod will be closed for five days.

The Kiryat Malachi municipality on Friday decided to suspend all schools and kindergartens in the city due to the rise in infections there.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, however, criticized the lockdown order, claiming it would cause “mass infections.”

“These people will go out and infect everyone in their neighborhood,” he told the Kan public broadcaster. “The solution for the coronavirus is to isolate the carriers. I have asked to be handed the authority to evacuate the carriers to [quarantine] hotels until they recover.”

The Health Ministry was also set to order restrictions on educational activities for children age 10 and up in Modiin Illit, Beit Shemesh and parts of Ashdod.

Israeli police at a roadblock in the Hephzibah neighborhood in Beit Shemesh that is currently under a lockdown in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, on July 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In Jerusalem, as of Friday morning, there were 2,316 confirmed active cases, with 1,089 new patients diagnosed over the past week, according to the Health Ministry. The other cities also have seen a one-week rise in cases of over 100 percent, with Kiryat Malachi seeing a spike of 368%.

The cabinet ministers’ decision had followed a recommendation by the Health Ministry earlier Thursday.

On Tuesday, the West Bank settlement city of Beitar Illit, another ultra-Orthodox city, was declared a restricted zone for seven days, as coronavirus infections there spiked.

On Friday morning, the Health Ministry reported 1,684 new virus cases since Thursday morning, the highest 24-hour tally since the start of the pandemic, with the total number of infections in Israel up to 35,631.

The ministry also announced two new fatalities since Thursday evening, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 350.

According to ministry figures, there are 16,739 active virus cases. This included 130 people in serious condition, of whom 42 were on ventilators. Another 91 people were in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus at his office in Jerusalem, on July 9, 2020. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The last few weeks have seen the reversal of many of the gains made in the fight against the coronavirus in recent months. The country had been placed on a nationwide lockdown for several weeks at the start of the outbreak, but removed most of its restrictions by May to reopen the economy.

The current rate of increase in weekly infections in Israel is one of the highest in the world, according to a chart published Monday afternoon by the Health Ministry.

With hospitalization rates taking a few weeks to show a rise following increases in cases, the Health Ministry on Thursday told hospitals to prepare for a coming influx of patients.

The government on Monday passed a raft of restrictions to contain the renewed outbreak, including limiting the number of people at restaurants and synagogues, reducing the number of passengers on public transportation, hiking fines for not wearing face masks, and shutting down event halls, cultural venues, swimming pools, gyms, bars and nightclubs.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has reportedly warned the country could return to a nationwide lockdown if the number of daily virus cases surpasses 2,000.

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