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Israel, between lockdowns, protests and religious holidays

Almost three weeks have passed since the Israeli government approved a second lockdown for the whole country.
The Israeli government was the first executive in the world to decide on a second total lockdown against the COVID-19 outbreak.
This second lockdown will remain in effect until 14 October.
Among the measures ordered by the government: the closure of non-essential services, the blocking of demonstrations beyond one kilometre from home and in no more than 20 people, while restaurants remain open only for home deliveries. Schools, gyms and places of entertainment also closed. Pharmacies and some essential industries for the country remain open. The Ben Gurion airport, on the other hand, has remained closed to departing flights until the end of the holidays. In addition, it is not possible to travel more than one km from home, with exceptions for going to work, medical examinations and other emergencies. Swimming in the sea or sunbathing on the beach is also prohibited.

Indoors a maximum of ten people can be accommodated, while outdoors the roof is twenty and an interpersonal distance of two meters must be maintained. If all the above-mentioned directions are followed, it is possible to attend funerals and circumcisions.
The government has also provided for sanctions of up to 500 Shekels (about 124 euros) for those who violate the authorities’ provisions on the occasion of the Sukkot, one of the most important holidays of the Jewish religion which lasts from 2 to 9 October.

The synagogues, on the other hand, remained open only for the Kippur ceremonies (Sunday 27 September and Monday 28 September) and restricted to a limited number of people.
For the rites in the synagogue, therefore, if the temple is within a kilometre from home, the believers must be divided into ‘capsules’ bounded by plastic sheets. For cities in the red zone, where the rate of infection is higher, each ‘capsule’ can contain a maximum of 10 believers, while for other places there are up to 25. However, there must be two empty places between one worshipper and the other, and no food can be served. Singers and shofar players, the horn for ritual music, must have special permission.

The Israeli religious parties have raised harsh controversies against the government on this last point because the decision to impose new restrictions was not unanimously shared within the government. For example, Construction Minister Yaakov Litzman, head of the extreme right religious party UTJ, resigned in controversy with the restrictions on group prayers, while Labour Labour Minister Itzhik Shmuli explicitly opposed against the new lockdown.
For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced this plan with a video statement saying that: “The goal is to reduce the infection rate and literally save many lives in Israel.

At the moment it should be noted that the most affected community in Israel is that of the ultra-orthodox Jews, although this community constitutes about 12% of the total population.
To explain why there are so many within the community of the most religious, Chezy Levy, Director General of the Health Ministry, has spoken.
Chezy Levy said: “Because of overcrowding and prayers that sometimes violate the rules of conduct this part of the population has reached a high level of morbidity”. Levy also pointed out that although the mortality rate in this community remains relatively low in relation to the general population and the Arab population, presumably because of the young age of those infected. However, the rate is “rising sharply”. For the Director-General of the Ministry of Health, some ultra-orthodox religious schools also have “enormous” infection rates.
In this context, a decision taken by the Netanyahu executive, which was much debated and which I mentioned earlier, concerns the limitation to protests.
In fact, the executive has also approved a measure to limit protests within a kilometre of one’s own home, a controversial step to curb the spread of the contagion which, according to critics, aims to suppress weekly protests against the premier.
The Minister of Defence, Benny Gantz, supported the measure on the protests in an interview with Israel Radio, saying that: “at the moment there is a need for a postponement of the protests to stop the spread of the disease”.
Benny Gantz added that the national blockade could remain in place for many more weeks as the country has seen a significant increase in the number of new cases of Covid-19 in recent weeks.

Despite the anti-protest measures in recent days are growing more and more in Israel anti-Netanyahu protest.
On Saturday evening, at the end of the sabbatical, there were over 350 small demonstrations throughout the country against the Prime Minister’s policy in which they took part. According to the organizers, about 100,000 people protested.
The biggest demonstrations took place in the biggest cities of the country, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in the holy city also near the official residence of Netanyahu.
All the protests took place according to the new anti-COVID-19 regulations which impose reduced numbers, distance and use of masks.
The rules in question, together with the government’s overall coronavirus policy and the premier’s judicial affairs, are the most contested points by the protesters.
In the city of Tel Aviv, the police reported that they arrested 38 protesters in incidents and then released them. On the other hand, the organizers denounced that in some demonstrations, participants were attacked by supporters of the Prime Minister and had to resort to medical care.

From an economic point of view, experts warn that the paralysis of the economy will have devastating consequences. The Commissioner for the fight against the coronavirus Ronni Gamzu opposed the government’s decision to tighten the lockdown.
“No doubt when you block more, the drop in infections is more significant but the economic cost is terrible,” said Commissioner Ronni Gamzu. The newly resigned Labour Labour Minister Itzhik Shmuli also cited the potentially disastrous consequences for the national economy during a speech at the Knesset.

A relevant figure to take into account in this regard concerns the unemployment rate. In fact, since last February, about 850 thousand Israelis have registered with the National Employment Service in search of work, of which 522 thousand have been fired, while another 110 thousand have no social security benefits.
The failed management of the coronavirus crisis, especially in its economic aspects, is turning into a political defeat for Netanyahu and his party, Likud, which polls are showing a sharp decline. On the contrary, there is a growing consensus for the religious-nationalist party Yamina, of Naftali Bennett, which preaches solutions totally different from those implemented by the government.
One issue of discussion in the country is why contagions have increased again after the country had largely contained the virus in the spring with a rapid response. There are different points of view and reasons, the increase in the number of infections is not traced back to a single reason.

According to experts, this has to do with the hasty reopening of schools and companies as early as May, the large pockets of the population living in vulnerable conditions, such as the Arab or ultra-orthodox Jewish communities, and at the same time very confusing management by Netanyahu (already struggling, among other things, with his trials for corruption, complicated foreign policy manoeuvres and huge protests against him).
A further factor that some specialists associate with the new increase in the number of cases is the opening of schools, which in Israel started again on 1 September.
In fact, it is interesting to note that according to data released by the government cited by Haaretz, 40% of the newly infected are under 19 years old, while a month ago they were less than 30%.

By Michele Brunori

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