POLITICAL ROUNDUP – A SECOND CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWN AND ANTI-PROTESTS LEGISLATION
Monfort Advisory brief / October 2019
As infection rates in Israel climbed rapidly over the past several months, Israel was the first
country in the world to impose a second lockdown. After coming out of the first COVID -19 wave
in great shape, Israel removed almost all restrictions at once, only to see infection rates beginning
to soar over the summer. In September, Israel was the number one country in infection rate per
million people, and with hospitals nearing capacity, a second lockdown was imposed.
The timing was nothing short or problematic: the lockdown began at the same time as the Jewish
High Holiday period, when hundreds of thousands of Jews pray together in close proximity in
packed synagogues all over the country. Infection rates in ultra-orthodox communities in Israel
were already considerably higher than in the rest of the country, with 24% positivity rates
compared to about 10% nation-wide. The general lockdown was imposed after a plan to impose
lockdowns only on “red” cities, mostly of orthodox Jews and Israeli-Arabs, was challenged by
these communities and ultimately rejected by Prime Minister Netanyahu, for fear of the political
cost he may incur by losing the support of the Orthodox parties.
As such, an overall lockdown was announced. Two weeks in, it already appears that many
violations are still taking place, especially in Orthodox communities. Synagogues are left open
and mass prayers are taking place, with little to no enforcement by the police. Secular Israelis are
also showing disregard for the restrictions, either motivated by anger about the leniency given
to the orthodox community or simply driven by mistrust in the government and doubts about
the need for a general lockdown and not specific closures on red areas.
Indeed, Netanyahu has done little to dispel accusations that his decision on a second lockdown
was strongly motivated by his desire to curb the mass and ongoing protests against him. Over
the past week, despite climbing infection rates in the Orthodox community, blatant and
widespread disregard for the regulations there, and no evidence to suggest that the protests
against Netanayhu have caused any spike in infections, Netanyahu has busied himself almost
solely with finding a way to limit protests during the lockdown.
This week Netanayhu moved to expand the Corona Law (an emergency law giving the
government power to make decisions without parliamentary approval) to limit protests under
the lockdown. The amendment, passed in the Knesset, removes protests from being protected
from the movement and distance restrictions imposed by the lockdown, and allows protesting
only within 1km of people’s homes and with no more than 20 participants. This essentially puts
a stop to the mass protests in Balfour, outside Netanyahus’ residence.
This has been seen primarily as evidence that Netanayhu is more motivated by crashing the
opposition to his reign than in truly making health-based decisions. The focus on protests, which
have shown no impact on infections, and the continued allowance given to the orthodox
communities despite soaring infection rates, has yielded strong criticism against Neyanyahu’s
government for being politically motivated and not following any health or scientific reasoning.
The second lockdown currently in place has no end in sight; Netanyahu has gone on record to say
that it may last months and rolling it out will be much more gradual than before. However,
without strict enforcement of orthodox communities and Arab communities (where infection
rates are also higher than in the general population), the goals set for this lockdown are not likely
to be achieved. With protests being stifled under the lockdown, critics are also wo rried that
Netanyahu has an interest in prolonging it, essentially suffocating the resistance to his
government by limiting its ability to protest.