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Religious divide in Israel exacerbated by coronavirus

Health Ministry officials threatened this week to close down ultra-Orthodox cities and towns after high infection rates of the COVID-19 virus were reported coming from these communities, which are generally crowded.

So far only one city, Bnei Brak, with more than 1,000 reported cases of the virus, is under a closure of sorts with police allowing residents out only for specific reasons. Instead, ultimately, Israel closed down the entire nation, prohibiting travel between cities and limiting travel within cities as well.

Several weeks ago when Israel began implementing strict measures on the Israeli public, Many in the ultra-Orthodox community initially dismissed social distancing regulations. Pictures and videos emerged of business as usual in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Schools and yeshivas in these areas even remained open after the Ministry of Health ordered them closed. Even as recently as Tuesday, a group of 30 men were fined for praying together.

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the secular Yisrael Beytenu party, blamed the leadership of these communities for “endangering the health of the public.”

“It is important to remember that most of the ultra-Orthodox public listens to the instructions and follows them,” Lieberman said. “But what should worry us is not the lawbreaking minority, but the ultra-Orthodox leadership.”

Lieberman noted many examples of these breeches including an ultra-Orthodox man diagnosed with the coronavirus who boarded a bus full of passengers on Sunday and several incidents of protests and stone-throwing at police and paramedics in their neighborhood.

Yaakov Litzman, the Health Minister — who is ultra-Orthodox himself and also diagnosed with the virus — released a statement urging Israelis to stop blaming his community for spreading the disease.

“The statements that Haredim are seemingly are infecting [the broader population] with the virus are false and dangerous,” Litzman said. Of course, it is reported that he has the virus because he himself, the health minister, continued to banned prayer gatherings.

The secular city of Ramat Gan, which borders Bnei Brak, even erected closures between the two cities. The barriers were dismantled by police.

Many of the ultra-Orthodox do not recognize the State of Israel.

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