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Poll: Most ultra-Orthodox not confident in Netanyahu’s handling of pandemic

90% believe rabbis should be involved in setting policy on virus; 90.5% believe crisis has damaged relations between Haredi community and other Israelis

Ultra Orthodox Jews praying in the  town of Bnei Brak on October 14, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Ultra Orthodox Jews praying in the town of Bnei Brak on October 14, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel have little or no confidence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic, but 82 percent say they follow the Health Ministry’s guidelines, according to an Israel Democracy Institute survey published Thursday.

The poll found that 62% of ultra-Orthodox Jews had little or no confidence in the premier’s leadership during the pandemic and 86.5% had no confidence in the police. The pandemic has been marked by clashes between police and ultra-Orthodox protesters, as well as between police and anti-government protesters who are calling for Netanyahu’s resignation due to his ongoing corruption trial and the government’s handling of the virus outbreak.

However, confidence in rabbinic leadership through the crisis is high, with 90% saying they would want their religious leaders involved in setting policy for the pandemic, and 93% believing it is necessary or absolutely necessary to include rabbis when setting policy on how to deal with COVID-19.

Additionally, 61% responded that they rely on rabbis the most for evaluating the risk posed by COVID-19, with that figure climbing to 72% among Hasidim, where group gatherings around the charismatic leader, or rebbe, play a major part in religious life. Twenty-two percent said they relied on medical experts and the third-largest group, 4.5%, said they relied on God.

People walk next to election campaign billboards for the Likud Party, showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Bnei Brak, Israel, March. 1, 2020 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Only 7% said they had little or no confidence in their rabbinical leadership.

The majority also felt that political considerations guided the decision-making process of the country’s leadership, rather than scientific concerns — 60% said mostly or only political considerations guided policy, 30% said mainly health-related concerns, and only 4% said that only health-related concerns guided policy. A further 6% said they didn’t know.

Additionally, 81% of the ultra-Orthodox in Israel said that they believed the fact that they weren’t allowed to pray in synagogues while protests were allowed to take place was proof that there is discrimination against the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel. A further 16% didn’t agree much or totally disagree and 3% didn’t know.

Synagogues and houses of worship around the world have been frequently cited as locations with high rates of transmission of the virus. Transmission rates are presumed to be lower at outside protests, but there is still risk.

When the second wave of the pandemic hit Israel, 67% of the ultra-Orthodox thought it was essential that studies continued in religious schools and seminaries, with only 16% believing they should be suspended and 17% answering that they didn’t know.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish children from the Kretchnif Hasidic dynasty study at a school in the central city of Rehovot, on September 10, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The poll also found a high level of fear related to the virus — 78% think it poses a mortal danger and 69% believe or strongly believe the claim that COVID-19 has long-term health effects.

Only 24% believe or strongly believe in the idea of intentional infection to produce herd immunity, the survey found.

A slight majority of members of the ultra-Orthodox community — 57.8% — believed that the main cause of the high infection rates in the community was the crowded living conditions in their localities, 12% thought the cause was the lack of consideration for the ultra-Orthodox way of life by those who issued the instructions and 8% thought the government didn’t transmit the appropriate information to the community. Only 2% believed that the high transmission rates were due to instructions from rabbis to continue living their lives as normal.

The very clear majority — 90.5% — believed that the pandemic has damaged or greatly damaged relations between the ultra-Orthodox community and other Israelis. A small number — 3.5% — said the crisis improved or greatly improved relations, and 6% said they don’t know.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews keep social distance amid concerns over the country’s coronavirus outbreak, in the southern Israeli city of Arad, during a protest against what they say is incitement against the city and country’s religious population, October 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The phone survey questioned 860 people and had a 3.4% margin of error, the IDI said. The institute did not say when the poll was carried out.

The poll comes during a period of high tension between ultra-Orthodox Israelis and other parts of the public.

Some ultra-Orthodox groups have widely disobeyed virus restrictions by holding mass events during the High Holiday period in September and October, stoking public anger.

Some schools and yeshivas in the communities opened illegally — including in high-infection areas that were subject to extra virus restrictions — even as most of the education system in the rest of the country was under lockdown.

Law enforcement authorities struggled to enforce regulations, and in some cases were accused of turning a blind eye to malfeasance.

Police officers close synagogues and hand out fines to ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Meah Shearim in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, April 6, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Many ultra-Orthodox leaders and residents believed their community was being unfairly targeted by the government as some Haredi areas were put under tight lockdowns.

However, the government’s decision to scupper lockdown plans under a so-called “traffic light” system in September was widely seen as a result of heavy ultra-Orthodox pressure against the move. Several of the areas on the draft roster of red cities were majority ultra-Orthodox, and local leaders and others had threatened to disregard the new guidelines and pull their political support from Netanyahu if they were implemented.

Positive virus test rates among the ultra-Orthodox were substantially higher than among the general population at various points throughout the year.

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