JERUSALEM (VINnews) — The Chareidi factions of Shas and UTJ met independently with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and demanded a cessation of what they deemed biased and discriminatory enforcement of coronavirus public health regulations. The MKs met with Netanyahu as well as Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana after numerous demonstrations by Chareidim as well as threats from MKs to leave the government if it does not deal with the unfair targeting of the community.
.“The Chareidi community is suffering from unfair discrimination,” Shas head and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said at the meeting, according to a statement his office released Monday afternoon. “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,” he said, referring to the recent closures of several Chareidi neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Ashdod and Beit Shemesh as well as the entire town of Beitar Illit.
Deri said that before applying a lockdown, authorities need to asses what sort of aid is required and how to evacuate patients to coronavirus hotels.
“If you can’t evacuate the patients it makes no sense to establish a closure,” he said.
“It is difficult to convince the public to adhere to the guidelines when no official closure guidelines are published,” added Shas MK Moshe Abutbul, the former mayor of Beit Shemesh.
In recent days Chareidim angrily protested the arbitrary closures imposed on Chareidi neighborhoods despite the fact that no similar sanctions were imposed on secular areas severely affected by coronavirus. On Saturday night hundreds of protesters blocked the intersection of Yirmiyahu and Shamgar streets in Jerusalem and threw stones, eggs and other objects at police, according to a police statement. Some protesters removed police barricades which were set there to enforce the lockdowns. 10 protesters were arrested.
In a statement after Monday’s meeting, UTJ said that “imposing a closure on Chareidi population concentrations is fleeing from responsibility. This behavior harms the public and is not effective in combating the coronavirus. Our demand is for action to be transparent and egalitarian, and to remove the discriminatory closures.”
The current approach, the party said, was “unjustified, disproportionate, tainted with selective discrimination and undermines public trust in the system.”
According to UTJ, Edelstein replied that his ministry would “work to fix this.” The Prime Minister’s Office announced in response that prior to future closures, consultations would be held with representatives of the ultra-Orthodox community and, if possible, command centers would be opened in the affected communities themselves.
“I asked to meet here to hear from you and so that we can address your distress; I know it is real and it touches our hearts,” Netanyahu said. “We want to help, no one wants to be abused… and I am open to listening.”
The MKs also complained of excessive brutality used against members of the Chareidi community by police enforcing public health restrictions. During the past weeks police have stepped up enforcement of mask regulations while allegedly using disproportionate force against Chareidim who fail to comply with the regulations and at the same time treating secular offenders far more leniently.