With Israel tallying record numbers of new coronavirus cases each day in the past few weeks, a Health Ministry official has threatened that the country is “one step” away from another full lockdown.
The number of serious COVID-19 cases surged to 183, up 32 in one day; with well over 1,000 new cases reported each day. But while the worrying numbers have prompted growing concern by authorities, the Israeli public has grown restless from the stringent restrictions that have crippled entire sectors of the economy.
Tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated to raise awareness about the economic hardships and against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership during the pandemic on Saturday night. The self-employed and other business owners protested restrictions on businesses, a lack of compensation for the closures; and lockdowns on specific neighborhoods where outbreaks have been recorded.
The latest poll shows that 61 percent of Israelis disapprove of Netanyahu’s overall handling of the COVID-19 crisis and 75 percent are unhappy with his handling of the economic fallout. This is a huge turnaround from just two months ago, when Bibi received high marks both domestically and abroad for his handling of the crisis. We were down to just seven new cases a day, but when we opened back up, people got complacent.
It isn’t just business owners who are fed up with the situation. Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men protested government lockdowns on their Jerusalem neighborhood. The protest turned violent as participants threw stones at police, set garbage bins on fire and forcibly removed police barricades designed to keep the cities under lockdown. Several people have been arrested in the past few days.
“We won’t give up; this is a war for our home and we won’t allow discrimination in the Jewish state,” a protester told an ultra-Orthodox news site. “We will take every measure until the lockdown is lifted and police start treating us like human beings.”
Of course, these same folks, were the most infected community in Israel, as they spurned the initial cautions and continued to have large gatherings. While making up less than 10% of Israel, in April they had 50% of the corona cases.
The lockdowns went into effect on Friday in specific neighborhoods in five cities. The government had also previously sealed off the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Beitar Illit and ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Ashdod.
“Discrimination is being enforced against the ultra-Orthodox community,” said Aryeh Deri, who is head of the Interior Minister and is ultra-Orthodox. “I call on the prime minister and the public security minister to work for equal enforcement. A closure carried out without any aid package does not achieve its goal and harms the entire public.”
Others say there is no discrimination, just dealing with facts on the ground and seeking to stop the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, an official with the Health Ministry was angry with the Knesset coronavirus cabinet for reopening gyms and swimming pools on Monday, just after the government announced restrictions on these institutions the previous week. The emergency cabinet said there was insufficient data to justify the closure of pools and gyms.