Police Reach Out to Chareidim After Coronavirus Confrontations

Israeli police and border police question passersby in the Romema and Kiryat Belz neighborhood in Yerushalayim, during a pandemic lockdown, Sunday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli police are trying to repair relations with the chareidi community after a series of incidents in which coronavirus regulations were enforced with a heavy and discriminatory hand.

On Monday, Yerushalayim District Chief Superintendent Shimi Marciano and Rabbi Rami Brachyahu, the Chief Rabbi of the Israel Police, met with Batya Getter, the 13-year-old girl who was reduced to tears when an officer detained her over not wearing a mask last week. The widely publicized incident triggered outrage in the chareidi community.

Superintendent Marciano said at the meeting: “We are glad you came; our goal today is for you to [see the police in a better light]. The police have many tasks, mainly to maintain public safety, and recently, we have been tasked with maintaining public health and ensuring that the public wears masks in order to prevent the spread of the disease. I want you to know that the cops are good people who look after the public and care for them. I hope you leave here today smiling and feeling good,” he was quoted by Arutz Sheva as saying.

Rabbi Brachyahu said: “The police work hard to maintain the health of the people of Israel, and they do sacred work. Their only intention was to maintain all of our health. It is very important to us that you know that the police intend to do only good.”

Batya’s father, Yehoshua Getter, said: “the message I want to emerge from all of this is the sanctification of Hashem’s name and that the people need unity. I wish that we would unite, reconcile, and move on.”

That conciliatory conversation came on the same day that chareidi MKs from Shas and United Torah Judaism met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏ and confronted him with the grievances of the community.

“Discrimination is being enforced against the chareidi community,” Shas head and Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri said, according to a statement his office released on Monday afternoon. “I call on the prime minister and the public security minister to work for equal enforcement.”

The UTJ demanded, among other things, the establishment of a command center, which will also have representatives from the local authorities and the Home Front Command, in order to prepare properly before imposing any kind of closure.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who participated in the meeting, assured the MKs there was already a change of trend, and that the police officers were instructed to “calm things down.” He also noted that during a rally Sunday night in the Romema neighborhood of Yerushalayim, police did not raise a finger. Police had previously been sharply criticized for lenient treatment of demonstrators in Tel Aviv while cracking down violently on chareidi demonstrators in Yerushalayim in recent days.

In a statement after Monday’s meeting, UTJ said that “imposing a closure on ultra-Orthodox population concentrations is a fleeing from responsibility. This is a behavior that harms the public and is not effective in combating the coronavirus. Our demand is for action to be transparent and egalitarian, and to remove sectarian closures.”

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