Probably no country has experienced such a dramatic case in terms of Covid-19. In Israel, the former model country for the fight against viruses, the infection rate has gotten so out of hand that the government has ordered a second lockdown.
5,523 people tested positive for the virus on September 15, a sad record in the country of nine million residents. After no other remedies seem to work, the new lockdown should begin next Friday afternoon. This makes the Jewish state the first to impose a nationwide curfew for the second time.
Initially, the lockdown is valid for three weeks, but can be extended depending on the situation. The rules are just as strict as the first time: people may be no more than 500 meters from their home. Shops that are not considered essential will have to close, as well as cafes, bars, parks, beaches and all kinds of leisure facilities.
Houses of God are only allowed to open their doors under strict conditions and only receive those who live within 500 meters.
Many families will not be able to celebrate the high holidays together
For Jewish Israelis, the new lockdown comes at a painful time, after all, there are several big holidays around the corner: Tonight begins Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year’s Eve, for which the whole family gathers. This year, many will have to celebrate separately from parents, children, brothers and sisters or grandchildren.
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Sunday evening September 27 follows Yom Kippur, the highest Jewish holiday, on which even many secular Israelis visit the synagogue. And on October 2, Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, begins, which lasts a week and is immediately replaced by Simchat Torah, the one-day festival of the Torah.
Criticism of the difficult step comes from both the opposition and from within. Ultra-Orthodox politician Yaakov Litzman, who was widely criticized in his previous role as health minister at the start of the pandemic, resigned as housing minister on September 13 in protest at the impending lockdown.
The synagogues in the country are only allowed to open under strict conditions – and that before the Jewish New Year and the highest holiday … Photo: Menahem Kahana / AFP
The two ultra-Orthodox parties involved in the coalition are complaining about alleged discrimination against their customers. In fact, the government had imposed very strict restrictions on many ultra-Orthodox cities – but this is due to the fact that the virus is spreading particularly rapidly there, as well as in cities with an Arab population.
The fact that both minorities are particularly affected can be explained both by the overcrowded housing conditions and by the sometimes lax compliance with the rules. Large weddings were still celebrated in many Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities, even after mass gatherings had long been banned.
Rabbis advised Torah students not to be tested
Some authorities set a bad example. For example, the mayor of the Arab city of Nazareth recently showed himself dancing without a mask at a forbidden wedding. A prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbi, in turn, instructed Torah students in his community not to be tested for Covid-19 in order to avoid a potential quarantine requirement.
Some analysts suspect Netanyahu has pushed for a nationwide lockdown to favor the ultra-Orthodox parties. Because they are among his most reliable allies, as long as he serves their specific interests. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on trial on serious corruption charges, needs allies.
The botched pandemic management puts him in additional distress. “Go have a coffee, a beer too, have fun,” Netanyahu advised citizens in late May. At that time, the number of new infections had fallen into double digits every day.
Sometimes there was no sign of the pandemic on the streets or in the parks
The government relaxed restrictions, the people breathed a sigh of relief – and followed the prime minister’s advice. Sometimes the pandemic was barely noticeable on the streets, in the parks and on the beaches of Israel.
Today, most experts agree that the opening was too quick and haphazard and that the government did not act quickly enough when the number of infections started to rise again. The fact that both Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin forbid inviting relatives who do not live in their households to eat for the April Passover festival has further damaged the credibility of the government.