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Netanyahu won't crack down on ultra-Orthodox despite virus surge

Though the ultra-Orthodox community's disregard for pandemic measures has emerged as central to Israel's virus problem, Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu can't afford to endanger his political alliance with them.
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and boys, a few mask-clad due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, stand along a street corner in the Ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem a few hours before the start of Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day of Atonement, on September 27, 2020. - Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, is one of the most important holidays of the Jewish year, during which Israelis observe a period of a 25-hour fasting, reflection and prayers and during which synagogues are f

The long alliance between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is costing Israel dearly in its war with the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Health Ministry’s data on Covid-19 morbidity. The rate of ultra-Orthodox testing positive for the virus is notably higher than that of the general population. In some age groups, the ultra-Orthodox represent 40% of those infected, even though this demographic accounts for only some 12% of the population. The wildfire spread of the epidemic seems to stem primarily from a total lack of state influence over life in the ultra-Orthodox sector.

Netanyahu, who has maintained a firm political alliance with the ultra-Orthodox parties throughout his terms in office, is now the target of widespread criticism. He is being blamed for the failure to impose curbs on the focal points of infection in ultra-Orthodox towns and neighborhoods due to political pressure. Now that it transpires that the ultra-Orthodox infections are the main growth engine of the epidemic, Netanyahu’s alliance with the ultra-Orthodox has gone from political asset propping up his rule to public burden. The prime minister’s opponents are accusing Netanyahu of sacrificing public health for his own interests, his political survival and his bitter war against law enforcement authorities and the judiciary.

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