Israel en route to coronavirus lockdown: Will ministers vote in favor?

With just hours to go until a final decision is made about whether Israel will go into lockdown over the High Holy Days, ministers from across the spectrum are making their voices heard – indicating there is little consensus about the plan passed last Thursday by the coronavirus cabinet.
Some ministers, such as Housing and Construction Minister Ya’acov Litzman (United Torah Judaism), oppose the closure for religious reasons. Others, such as Science & Technology Minister Izhar Shay and Economy Minister Amir Peretz, say the harm to the Israeli economy will be too severe for the country to recover. But Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has said that “I have signed the proposal that will be submitted to the government… and I say unequivocally – there will be no negotiations.”
The decision must be made before 11 p.m. on Sunday to enable Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau to leave for the United States, where he is expected to sign two peace agreements, one with the United Arab Emirates and the other with Bahrain. If enacted, the closure would begin at 6 a.m. on September 18.

Litzman told Netanyahu that if the government decides to enact a closure over the holidays to prevent the spread of coronavirus then his party would leave the coalition.

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He first made the comments earlier this month in an interview with Hamodia, a newspaper of the Agudath Israel movement that he heads. 

“The approval of mass demonstrations on Balfour along with the opening of cultural centers, while placing continued restrictions on synagogues and preventing travel to Uman, destroyed [the haredi] public’s confidence in the system,” Litzman said. 

However, many in the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector have said that Litzman’s protests are not dramatic. Party insiders told haredi media that the ultra-Orthodox cannot leave the government at the moment, before the approval of budgets and before a final decision is made on the IDF recruitment bill. 

In contrast, Interior Minister Arye Deri (Shas) called on his followers to keep whatever directives are handed down by the government.

Speaking during a weekly class of the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, Yitzhak Yosef, he said that not keeping Health Ministry directives is “murder.”

“We are dealing with life here… God will help us, if we keep [the directives]. It is not a joke,” he said.

Deri told stories of great rabbis who died from the virus and condemned those people who have said that coronavirus is not real. He promised his constituency that the government would do what it could to keep synagogues open – but not in their usual format.  Still, he told them that this year they would have to make due.

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“There is no choice,” he continued. “We must close.”

Peretz said he wants a scaled back closure: “I support a night closure in which about 80% of the economy remains open,” Peretz said Saturday night. “Hundreds of thousands of employees and the self-employed are in existential anxiety. The economic coronavirus pandemic is no less severe than the health pandemic.”

He said he called on Netanyahu to immediately establish a team and determine a compensation package that is clear to everyone.

Similarly, Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir argued late Saturday night that “a full closure of the entire country during the holidays is too extreme a step and has economic implications that entire industries will not recover from.” 

Zamir lashed out against “outrageous violations” of Health Ministry directives, from nightclub parties to weddings, and against the ministers who failed to be role models.

“No one is a role model here, including some of my colleagues in the Knesset and government, and this is the result,” he said. He added, however, that he will vote against the decision to impose the closure. On Saturday night, Edelstein held an interview with N12’s Dana Weiss. During that discussion he said that despite the noise, he would not accept any negotiations.”As soon as we start setting conditions for one area or another, we will collapse the whole proposal and, as a result, we will collapse the health system,” he said.Edelstein blamed the public for not keeping directives “and so we are closing down… I know there is a heavy price for the closure. For three months, we tried to stop it from happening, but we did not succeed.”The Finance Ministry estimated that the closure would cost the country around NIS 20 billion. 

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