Israel media review

Make my people stay: 6 things to know for April 5

Authorities are still working out the kinks on closing down Bnei Brak, with attention shifting to how Passover will look there and which other towns will join them

Israel Police set up temporary checkpoints at the entrance to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish city of Bnei Brak as part of an effort to enforce lockdown in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, April 3, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israel Police set up temporary checkpoints at the entrance to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish city of Bnei Brak as part of an effort to enforce lockdown in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, April 3, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

1. Welcome to lockdown town: After Bnei Brak, several more cities — most of them with sizable ultra-Orthodox populations — are in the crosshairs of a possible enforced citywide quarantine with Passover fast approaching.

  • Channel 12 news publishes what it says is a list of cities set to be locked down, by order of priority: Jerusalem (certain neighborhoods), Migdal Ha’emek, Beit Shemesh (certain neighborhoods), Beitar Illit, Ashkelon, Tiberias, Or Yehuda, Modiin Illit and Modiin.
  • According to the report, the closure on Modiin would only include the actual city of Modiin and not Reut and Maccabim, which are part of the municipality but really their own entities.
  • Haaretz notes, “The government’s decision from Thursday authorizes a ministerial committee to declare a city or neighborhood a restricted area, but those who are expected to make an actual decision are the prime minister, in collaboration with the National Security Council.”
  • Former general Gal Hirsch, who is coordinating anti-coronavirus activities in the city of Elad (despite some allegedly shady dealings in his past), tells Army Radio that he is “impressed with the discipline here, the public is acting correctly. The claims against the ultra-Orthodox public are wrongheaded and out of line.”
  • Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, tells Kan radio that most of those infected in Jerusalem come from the city’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. “In some neighborhoods there are more sick per capita than in Bnei Brak,” he says.

2. Burn after feeding: And how is the closure on Bnei Brak going? Starting Sunday, public transportation to and from the city is cut off and a main thoroughfare running through it is blocked.

  • Channel 13 notes that the police had few problems in the city over Shabbat, but officers are gearing up for Passover, which it calls “the main danger.”
  • “Police are planning an unprecedented enforcement operation aimed at preventing families from Bnei Brak from going to Jerusalem and other cities,” the channel reports.
  • But the bigger concerns are what’s happening in people’s homes assuming they are staying in for Passover, as the army takes control of the city and of providing for citizens’ needs.
  • Speaking to Israel Hayom, former general Roni Numa, who is running the army’s response there, says soldiers are starting to be assigned specific families that they will care for. “The residents of Bnei Brak are starting to understand that we are there to help them. It will take another day or two, but I think that by the middle of the week they will already trust us totally and understand that we did not come to strangle them or put them in a ghetto, as some of them claim, but rather to help them.”
  • Numa tells Kan radio that providing for people now is nothing compared to what it will be in two weeks, when many more are forced to remain at home.
  • Walla reports that among the help that residents will receive is soldiers burning their leavening for them, traditionally done in large communal bonfires in the hours before Passover begins, leaving the whole country smelling like burnt toast (rabbis have recommended this year just pouring bleach on the food, which accomplishes the same thing.)
  • “The army decided that ahead of Passover it will give out special bags to all the families in the city, and the soldiers will collect them in the morning before the holiday from building entrances. The bags will be placed on trucks and taken to be burnt outside the city, with the goal of preventing another outbreak.”

3. Stuck in the hot zone: Describing life inside Bnei Brak, or at least as she views it from her window, resident Shoshanna Hen expresses a mix of sadness and bewilderment at what has become of her hometown, where people praying from the balconies on Shabbat turned the whole place into one giant synagogue, but where there are also police and army patrolling.

  • “The situation chills me as a second generation survivor. How would my deceased mother, an Auschwitz survivor, react if soldiers were knocking on her door and telling her she had to leave the city as part of a plan to defend the elderly. Where is the sensitivity?”
  • Others also express misgivings about the way the closure has been managed.
  • Bnei Brak businessman Yitzhak Shienfeld tells the Calcalist business daily that people in Bnei Brak will start to go hungry if the closure lasts more than a week or two.
  • Another resident is quoted in the paper describing the catch-22 of trying to get food: “I don’t have anywhere to shop because the police won’t let me leave Bnei Brak, and I don’t want to go into a store inside the city for fear of catching the virus. Every supermarket is crawling with coronavirus.”
  • One resident tells Channel 12 news that he is already going hungry. “We knew it was serious, I’ve been holed up at home and me and my kids have barely eaten the last few days.”
  • He adds that he feels the city is being used as a “guinea pig.”
  • Another resident tells Army Radio that “my brother-in-law is at home with 10 kids. One of them has the coronavirus, and it’s certain he will infect everyone. The father has pre-existing conditions, but the Health Ministry told them they cannot help them. We don’t know what to do.”

4. Cool with the closure: Haaretz writes that many residents feel they are being treated unfairly, but others support the closure.

  • “I agree with it. I have an 80-year-old mother. It’s not collective punishment, it’s for us. I have a grocery store downstairs from my home. I’ll buy everything I need for Shabbat there. If they would have enforced [the closing of the] yeshivot, it would have been possible to prevent the closure,” one resident says.
  • An informal survey by Radio Kol Hai, an ultra-Orthodox station, finds that near 70 percent of listeners support placing Bnei Brak under quarantine.
  • Former army spokesman Ronen Manelis, who is dealing with communications for the army in the city, tells the Kol Barama radio station that 99 percent of the city is following the rules and that the army is working to fix the problems. But he adds that lifting the closure will depend on the number of new infections and “it’s too early to talk about a timeline.”

5. Rina failure: Ultra-Orthodox and others are also feeling sour about Channel 12 presenter Rina Matzliah, after she launched into a diatribe about the community on live TV Friday.

  • Speaking during a news roundtable, Matzliah called the virus an opportunity for the state to shift the way it deals with the ultra-Orthodox community, which she said has never accepted the state’s authority: “The Haredim need to learn, they need to take the good with the bad.”
  • When fellow anchors Dana Weiss and Danny Kushmaro interrupt that she can’t just tar a whole community, she shoots back: “I’ll say what I want. And I say that most of the Haredim are controlled by rabbis who are controlled by wheeler-dealers.”
  • “Matzliah’s outrageous remarks against the ultra-Orthodox community have led to angry denunciations online alongside calls by Haredi politicians for her to be fired,” the Kikar Hashabbat website writes.
  • “When Dana Weiss and Danny Kushmaro need to defend the Haredi community against Matzliah’s unbridled incitement, that says everything,” the site’s publisher Yishai Cohen writes.
  • The Srugim website runs a headline calling her comments “embarrassing stupidity,” quoting from a comment by Israel Hayom reporter Yehuda Shlesinger.
  • “In every generation they come to discriminate,” reads a headline about the affair on the Haredim10 website, essentially likening Matzliah to the worst villains of Jewish history.
  • In Israel Hayom’s English site columnist David M. Weinberg makes essentially the same argument as Matzliah, but with a bit more love for Jewish lawbreakers.
  • “Israel’s Haredi community is in a category of its own, altogether different from Arabs or Bedouin, both in terms of its own self-definition and broader Israeli society’s relationship with it. Haredi Israelis are truly brothers, fellow Jews,” he writes. “It is high time to impose more obligations and responsibilities on this country’s minority populations, especially Haredi Jews. One would hope that the coronavirus crisis would bring haredi leaders to appreciate the extensive efforts of the State of Israel to treat and heal their community, and thus be moved to mend some of their more extreme ‘social distancing’ ways.”

6. Looking for the new normal: While some are trading blame, others are starting to look for a way out of this mess.

  • Speaking to Channel 12 news, Health Ministry director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov says that “I really hope that if our collective efforts — those of the authorities and the people staying home — if they continue for the next two weeks and continue to bear fruit, we will be able, after Passover, to begin a return to economic activity in a measured and controlled way.”
  • Kan’s Shaul Amsterdamski takes a look at what the country might look like should it attempt to start to open up again following the holidays. Noting that researchers think the country may be able to open up in a few weeks, with cases continuing, but at a manageable pace, but notes that it may take a few tries to get the balance right. (To illustrate, he includes a chart showing the flattened curve turned into more of a rollercoaster.)
  • “This will happen again and again and again and again. Sometimes more successfully, and sometimes less. When we are more successful, the economy will be open longer, when we are less so, it will be open for a shorter period. How can we build a routine of normal economic activity like this? The answer is that it’s quite difficult, and this will be the new normal, something that we still have trouble imagining.”
  • Health expert Ran Balicer comes to a similar conclusion in Haaretz, but writes that Israel should take it slow and wait until testing is more widespread in order to keep a two-week delayed massive outbreak from occurring.
  • But if there is an exit, he envisions it as based on “a fast and focused effort to locate and tackle infected individuals; a differential and dynamic lockdown policy among targeted communities; and designated policies for allowing recovered immune patients to return to normal life and take a continuously increasing role in sustaining the economy.”
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