Saturday, July 31

Thousands of people join the funeral in Jerusalem, they disobey the rules of the pandemic

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Israelis have packed the funeral of a prominent rabbi in Jerusalem, circumventing the country’s ban on holding large public gatherings during the pandemic.
The funeral procession for Rabbi Meshulam Soloveitchik, who died aged 99, made its way through the streets of Jerusalem yesterday in the latest display of ultra-Orthodox Israelis’ refusal to honor coronavirus restrictions.
Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews take part in the funeral of prominent Rabbi Meshulam Soloveitchik in Jerusalem. (AP)
The phenomenon has undermined the country’s aggressive vaccination campaign to control a violent and threatening outbreak. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the March elections.

Two rivals accused Netanyahu of failing to enforce the law due to political pressure from his ultra-Orthodox political allies.

Thickened crowds of people gathered outside the rabbi’s home, ignoring restrictions on outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people. Many did not wear masks.

Thousands of black-clad ultra-Orthodox funeral attendees passed by the city’s main entrance toward the cemetery where Rabbi Soloveitchik was to be buried.

A handful of police officers blocked the intersections for traffic to allow the participants to pass, but apparently took no action to prevent the illegal assembly.

Israeli media said that Rabbi Soloveitchik, a prominent religious scholar who led several well-known seminars, had recently suffered from COVID-19.

The mass ceremony was held despite the country’s health regulations prohibiting large public gatherings, during a nationwide shutdown to curb the spread of the virus. (AP)

Alon Halfon, a Jerusalem police officer, told Channel 13 TV that the police had no choice but to allow the mass procession to continue.

He said that the police action had helped reduce the size of the crowd and that some 100 fines were issued for health violations.

But in such a dense environment, with children in the crowd, trying to disperse the crowd would have been “reckless and dangerous.”

Israel’s Health Ministry has recorded more than 640,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and at least 4,745 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Israel has recently averaged more than 6,000 confirmed coronavirus cases each day, one of the highest infection rates in the developing world.

At the same time, Israel has vaccinated more than three million of its citizens, also one of the highest per capita rates in the world.

Health experts say it could take several weeks for the vaccination campaign to have an effect on infection and hospitalization rates.

The Israeli cabinet is expected to extend a national lockdown for another week.

The government imposed movement restrictions and the closure of schools and non-essential businesses last month in an effort to suppress Israel’s rampant pandemic.

A disproportionate number of coronavirus cases in Israel are within the country’s ultra-Orthodox minority.

The strictly religious community, which makes up about 11 percent of Israel’s 9.2 million people, has accounted for about 40 percent of the new cases.

Many ultra-Orthodox sects have kept schools, seminaries and synagogues open, and have held mass weddings and funerals in violation of lockdown restrictions that have closed schools and many businesses in other parts of the country.

In recent weeks there have been violent clashes between members of the ultra-Orthodox community who disobey the rules and police officers who try to enforce them.

The funeral went ahead with a large crowd despite the fact that outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited in Israel. (AP)

Ultra-Orthodox leaders say they have been unfairly singled out and argue that the country’s secular public does not understand the importance of public prayers and religious studies in their community.

They claim that those who break the laws are part of their diverse community and blame crowded living conditions for the outbreak.

Netanyahu has long relied on the support of ultra-Orthodox parties, and critics say he has refused to antagonize his allies ahead of critical elections.

Without ultra-Orthodox support, it will be extremely difficult for Netanyahu to assemble a governing coalition, especially as he seeks immunity from an ongoing corruption trial.

But there are signs that this alliance could become a drag due to widespread public anger at the ultra-Orthodox behavior during the pandemic.

A poll last week indicated that more than 60 percent of Israelis do not want ultra-Orthodox parties to serve in the next coalition.

The funeral came a day after police used a water cannon to disperse anti-Netanyahu protesters near the prime minister’s residence.

And Israeli media showed that the police imposed fines on people who violated the lockdown in Tel Aviv, prompting allegations that the police were following double standards.

Gideon Saar, a right-wing Israeli politician who challenged Netanyahu in the elections, criticized the prime minister on Twitter, saying “the photos from Jerusalem show that Netanyahu has given up on law enforcement for political reasons.”

“This will not happen in a government headed by me,” he wrote.

“There will be a law for everyone and it will be enforced.”

Another challenger, Yair Lapid, leader of a centrist party that appeals to secular middle-class voters, said in a speech in parliament that he had nothing against the ultra-Orthodox or their parties.

“I have a big problem with someone who thinks the law doesn’t apply to him,” he said.

“The law is for everyone.”

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