Israel media review

It’s their funeral: 6 things to know for March 29

A well-attended Bnei Brak burial service and high infection rates spark questions about police conduct and whether the ultra-Orthodox will change their ways before it’s too late

Attendees at a Bnei Brak funeral on March 29, 2020. (screen capture: Twitter)
Attendees at a Bnei Brak funeral on March 29, 2020. (screen capture: Twitter)

1. Lockdown showdown: Israel appears to be headed toward a tighter lockdown with the number of confirmed infections continuing to climb (though the number of new daily cases has remained mostly steady).

  • The various options will be discussed Sunday at a cabinet meeting, which will likely see yet another clash between officials who want to keep everybody locked up and officials who want to keep at least part of the economy humming along.
  • This comes after on Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to impose a full lockdown if numbers don’t improve within two days (an capricious number given the fact that most cases don’t show symptoms until at least six days have passed, meaning a previous raft of measures were essentially meaningless).
  • One directive to be weighed on Sunday is to further reduce, from 30 percent to 20 percent, the proportion of a given company’s staff allowed to continue to go to work. Another would be to restrict people to within 2-3 kilometers from home when buying groceries and supplies, and a third measure would see supermarkets allocate two hours a day for elderly shoppers who are considered high risk for contracting the virus.
  • Yedioth quotes a source saying that the general direction is toward tightened the closure or even a full lockdown, though the same source also says that “the feeling is that the market will be shrunk to a minimum while taking the economy into account.”
  • Israel Hayom runs a front page headline saying that “a closure is on the way,” though what that means is unclear, with the paper reporting that the cabinet is expected to approve a reduction of economic activity to just 15% of normal.
  • But help, too, is on the way. The Calcalist daily reports that government officials have agreed on an NIS 80 billion rescue package. How exactly the money will be divvied up, though, remains up in the air.
  • And Walla news reports that total lockdown or no, 650 armed soldiers will be deployed to help with enforcement, though they won’t actually hand out tickets. Should the full lockdown be imposed, 3,600 soldiers will be deployed for the operation, it says.

2. Grave diggers: The cabinet can place all the lockdowns it wants, but if they aren’t enforced, it’s unclear what good they will do.

  • After a late-night funeral in Bnei Brak drew hundreds — 400 according to Ynet, 300 according to Haaretz, too many according to everybody — the anger and frustration in the press is palpable.
  • Haaretz reports that police initially tried to convince organizers to minimize how many people were allowed at the funeral, but eventually gave in, so long as attendees stayed away from each other. But videos from the scene show that people showed little regard for social distancing, and the police showed little desire for jumping in.
  • “Anyone who knows the situation on the ground knows it’s out of control,” a health official is quoted telling the paper.
  • Channel 12 news runs a picture of the funeral alongside a still shot from a video of two police cruisers chasing a kid on a bike through a park to give him a fine for breaking restriction rules. “The police are giving out plenty of tickets, but at the same time groups of extremist ultra-Orthodox are continuing their normal lives and thumbing their noses at the restrictions,” the channel reports, lamenting the “choosiness” of the police.
  • Israel Hayom runs the same juxtaposition: “The behavior of the police toward the ultra-Orthodox is more like that of social workers than tough cops, and this is because they are afraid of the reaction of the Haredim,” the paper gripes. “The police let the ultra-Orthodox break the rules in the public space and create a real mortal danger.”
  • Illustrating those fears, a video online circulates showing a reporter, seemingly from Ynet, dressed head to toe in a protective suit as he tries to interview attendees. But while he was worried about COVID-19, he forgot to worry about a crotchety old man, who attacks him with his walker, calling him a “Nazi,” and yelling “get outta here.”
  • Kan reports that Police Minister Gilad Erdan has summoned the commish for a dressing down over the “serious incident.”

3. It could have been worse? A police source tells Haaretz that normally one would have seen thousands in the street for such a funeral, meaning that most people are listening to the directives and it’s only a few rabble-rousers stirring things up.

  • Ynet reports that the group that held the funeral, the so-called Jerusalem Faction, is known for being dead set against the social distancing directives, or any other government proscriptions.
  • “99.9 percent of the public listens to the directions of the Health Ministry and the rabbis,” Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein tells Army Radio. “To lump everyone together is to incriminate everyone in Bnei Brak for a funeral that drew people from all over the country.”
  • But Sunday morning brings another video, this time of a wedding celebration for Rubinstein’s brother-in-law, with what look to be hundreds of people dancing and holding hands and not keeping their distance.
  • “It’s also the Haredi mainstream in Bnei Brak, with an emphasis on Mayor Avraham Rubinstein, who is leading the policy of ‘it’ll all be fine’ in the city,” writes Walla’s Yaki Adamker.

4. Ultra-dangerous: The funeral is only the cherry on top after documents leaked over the weekend showed Bnei Brak to have the most cases anywhere outside of Jerusalem.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth points out that the three places with the highest infection density rates are Kiryat Ye’arim aka Telz Stone, Kfar Habad and Bnei Brak.
  • “The virus has made its way to pretty much every area, but one thing is sure: [the chart] shows an especially worrying picture in Haredi population centers,” the paper reports.
  • Channel 13 reports from Shabbat Square, the center of ultra-Orthodox life in Jerusalem, as cops tried Friday to keep people off the streets. While at first it looked like they were succeeding, the crowds just grew and grew as the hours passed and stores opened.
  • “Eventually, kids from extremist neighborhoods started to crowd around, shout and curse the police, without keeping a safe distance to stop the spread of the virus.
  • The channel reports that police decided to launch a drone with a loudspeaker telling people to disperse, but that it only made them angrier .
  • Several local leaders in ultra-Orthodox communities complain to Haaretz that very little information on infections is filtering down to the people in comparison to the general population.
  • The paper notes that some half of the Haredi population has only highly limited kosher cellphones which are incapable of receiving quarantine notices from the Health Ministry.
  • “Everything here is being conducted by word of mouth rumors,” one official in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Modiin Illit tells the paper. “Someone hears the neighbor was infected and things are passed on. There’s no monitoring or oversight.”

5. Wuhan, Israel: Don’t they? In the ultra-Orthodox community, plenty of people do seem to know what is going on.

  • In the Kikar Hashabbat ultra-Orthodox news website, an article about people being detained after congregating in a synagogue is labeled “They are endangering us all.”
  • “The complacency in our streets doesn’t come from a lack of information or rabbinical instructions, it’s from a lack of caring,” fumes columnist B. Segev in the paper, calling what is happening “bloodshed and slaughter.”
  • “The forecast after the funeral: Many dead in Bnei Brak,” tweets Haredi journalist Eli Shlezinger.
  • In Behadrei Haredim, another ultra-Orthodox news site, he writes that thanks to the people at the funeral “it’s a short way to turning Bnei Brak into a district of Hubei in Israel.”
  • Both sites lead with stories about 11 ultra-Orthodox Jews in the New York area dying of the virus over Shabbat, as do US-based ultra-Orthodox media.
  • “We have made a colossal error in how we have responded to the COVID-19 virus based upon incorrect information from the authorities,” an area rabbi writes in the VozisNeias website, calling for the immediate halt of all prayer groups or other gatherings, and saying that he lost three friends recently to the virus.

6. Nofim 2: It’s not just the ultra-Orthodox either. Channel 13 news reports that three people from a Beersheba old age home are in serious condition from the virus, with at least another three who have also tested positive.

  • This comes a day after one resident of the home died just hours after arriving at the hospital.
  • The channel compares the situation to that of the Nofim Towers facility in Jerusalem, where a large number of people have also been infected.
  • Walla news reports that residents at the Beersheba home are demanding they be checked.
  • “They want to turn us into Jerusalem 2. Nobody is telling us anything. I just don’t understand. More people are sick and we aren’t getting answers,” one resident tells the news site.
  • The daughter of the man from the facility who died, Avraham Arushas, 93, tells Israel Hayom that her dad was an eternal optimist.
  • “He believed in the good and always saw the glass half full,” she says. “He was such a good man who imagined he would live forever. But unfortunately the coronavirus bested him.”
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