The city of Ramat Gan on Monday was ordered by the Interior Ministry to take down makeshift fences and checkpoints it had erected to block pedestrian traffic from neighboring Bnei Brak, which has a high concentration of coronavirus cases.
The fences were put up overnight by the Ramat Gan municipality to separate the adjacent Tel Aviv suburbs, but were removed after a directive from the Interior Ministry stating that the local council did not have the authority to make such a move.
Last week Ramat Gan Mayor Carmel Shama-Hacohen demanded a full lockdown of Bnei Brak and threatened to take the matter to the High Court.
“So long as the Israel Police doesn’t block the entrance points, and so long as the movement between cities is forbidden by law, the responsibility for public health leads us to the conclusion that it is appropriate and correct to plug all openings,” the Ramat Gan municipality said in a statement, referring to the fact that security forces have set up checkpoints for vehicles moving in and out of Bnei Brak, but pedestrian traffic can move unimpeded.
Shama-Hacohen said Monday he would continue to work to protect the residents of his city.
“Public health is not a joke and human life is not a laughing matter. It is said that one who saves a single life in Israel, saves the world as a whole, so I will continue to protect public health no matter the humiliation or cynical manipulations of others,” he said.
But there was anger toward Shama-Hacohen from the mayor of Bnei Brak and other ultra-Orthodox leaders.
“The man tried to clip a political coupon on the plight of the residents of Bnei Brak when traffic restrictions were imposed on them by erecting fences around a ghetto. Establishing fences is a violent step of criminal behavior, and is reminiscent of dark times in Jewish history,” said Abraham Rubinstein.
United Torah Judaism chair Yaakov Litzman called on Shama-Hachohen “to avoid steps that increase friction and contention between the communities.”
“Residents of Bnei Brak and Haredi areas are not supposed to receive discriminatory and humiliating treatment,” he said in a statement, urging Israelis to stop attributing the spread of the pandemic to members of his ultra-Orthodox community.
“The statements that Haredim are seemingly are infecting [the broader population] with the virus are false and dangerous,” Litzman said.
“The Haredi public is heeding the instructions and meticulously obeying the safety rules. In every community there is a small minority that does not observe the rules sufficiently and for this, enforcement by the authorities is required. But you cannot generalize and, heaven forbid, turn the coronavirus crisis into a clash between the communities in Israel.”
Ministers were expected on Monday to approve extending the lockdown of Bnei Brak — which began on Friday after the ultra-Orthodox town recorded one of Israel’s largest outbreaks of the coronavirus — for a further week.
They were also mulling enforcing a tighter closure over eight other cities and 15 ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem to stem the coronavirus outbreak.
The cities set to be included in the decision are Tiberias, Elad, Migdal Haemek, Beitar Illit, Ashkelon, Or Yehuda, Modiin Illit, and parts of Beit Shemesh.
The Jerusalem neighborhoods that are to be sealed are Har Nof, Bayit Vegan, Givat Mordechai, Ramat Shlomo, Sanhedria, Shmuel Hanavi, Beit Yisrael, Mea Shearim, Geula, Bucharim, Zichron Moshe, Ramot, Makor Baruch, Givat Shaul, and Kiryat Moshe.
The new restrictions are, however, expected to be less severe than those currently in place in Bnei Brak, with Hebrew media terming them a “breathable closure.”
The government is also considering imposing a general lockdown over all of Israel ahead of the Passover holiday.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri told Channel 12 that the potential nationwide closure was aimed at stopping extended families from gathering Wednesday night for the Passover Seder, the first eve of the seven-day festival, which is traditionally celebrated in groups.