Opinion: The precarious pandemic situation stems from the government’s lack of communication with the Arab and ultra-Orthodox sectors, which constitute the most infections and as a result pose the greatest risk to national stability
For many weeks now, Israel has been categorized as a “red” country due to its high coronavirus infection rates. But that sweeping designation does not reflect the true state of affairs.
According to the data presented last week to ministers, almost half of Israel’s local authorities are actually “green” due to their low infection rates.
Ultra-Orthodox men praying at the Western Wall during the coronavirus pandemic
According to the same data, COVID-19 is actually rampant in just 20 of Israel’s hundreds of cities and local councils; the second coronavirus wave is the result of outbreaks in two sectors – the Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities.
Almost 40% of new coronavirus patients are ultra-Orthodox and 20% are Arab. The figures may even be higher and not properly reflect the true picture, because the members of the ultra-Orthodox community rarely get tested.
Ultra-Orthodox Israelis form a disproportionate percentage of new coronavirus infection s- some would say they constitute more than 50% of new infections while comprising just 10% or so of the overall population.
It is no coincidence therefore that the “red” localities are mainly ultra-Orthodox and Arab areas.
Last week, the Health Ministry published a survey showing the public’s attitudes towards the coronavirus pandemic, which revealed a grim reality.
In the ultra-Orthodox sector, 31% of respondents said they are refraining from getting tested for fear they may need to enter isolation. More than 40% of those surveyed said they attended public gatherings that violated Health Ministry regulations. One third said they personally know someone who has violated isolation directives.
The high infection rate among the ultra-Orthodox is not just the result of poverty and overcrowding, it also stems from a severe lack of trust in Israel’s government.
It could even be seen as a form of sectoral protest, a kind of collective middle finger to the “Man,” whom they see as ignoring their needs, their customs and their way of life.
ultra-Orthodox Israelis feel deprived. They don’t understand why thousands can amass outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem to protest, while they are not allowed to gather in synagogues to pray or have any other public gathering.
This is what they are rebelling against.
Despite the disturbing figures regarding the infection rate among the Ultra-Orthodox, the government has thus far done nothing to help them get through the pandemic with dignity.
Instead of lecturing, we need dialogue. The sector must be offered the tools to stem further infections while being able to adhere to custom and shown respect.
And if that doesn’t work, the country must really crack down on the community and fully enforce the virus regulations.
The days we have left before the government decides to tighten restrictions for everyone must be used not to speak to the citizens of the State of Tel Aviv, but to address the sector whose members are at the heart of the contagion.
For if the contagion in the sector is not dealt with quickly and efficiently, the entire State of Israel will pay the price.