Tel Aviv / Praha From Friday, a nationwide quarantine will apply in Israel. By introducing it, the government is responding to the onset of the second wave of the covid-19 pandemic. However, the inhabitants are greatly annoyed by the regulation. It is as if it was announced in the Czech Republic on the morning of December 24, says Irena Kalhousová, director of the Herzl Center for Israeli Studies at Charles University in an interview for the Lidovky.cz server.
Lidovky.cz: Israel was the first country to announce a nationwide quarantine during the second wave of the covid-19 pandemic. Is the situation really that serious?
Israel has a population of less than 9 million. The government made the decision after the country had more than 4,000 cases tested positive daily. The curve has risen and Israel fears overwhelming hospitals, which was the main reason why they have taken a step back.
Lidovky.cz: Does the health care system still manage the influx of patients?
So far, yes. As in other countries, the current mortality is not so high, there are not so many people on the fans. But there are definitely concerns, so there is an effort to flatten the epidemiological curve and reduce the number of infected people so that congestion does not occur.
Lidovky.cz: The measure will take effect on Friday, ie on the day exactly at the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Was the government afraid of over-gathering?
Exactly. One of the reasons why the second wave came to Israel so quickly is that the rules have been loosened a lot here, similar to the Czech Republic. Weddings, funerals and, of course, holidays are great meetings in Israel. Moreover, the New Year is followed by Yom Kippur, which are the so-called high holidays, ie the most important ones. They continue through Sukkot, where families meet each other. It’s a long vacation, so people travel. So this timing is definitely not a coincidence, it is pragmatism. Of course, the government was annoyed by the government, it is as if it was announced in the Czech Republic on the morning of December 24.
Lidovky.cz: In response to the decision, Minister Ja’akov Litzman from the Orthodox Party of the United Torah Judaism announced his resignation. How big does it matter?
It makes sense. In recent weeks, the various restrictions on movement have focused heavily on cities and neighborhoods inhabited by ultra-Orthodox Jews. These are communities with large families, where people are in great contact with each other, they often meet in synagogues. Within families, covid is the most widespread in Israel, so you are more likely to become infected at home than on the street.
But any attempts to severely curtail life in these communities have met with opposition from the ultra-Orthodox parties on which Benjamin Netanyahu’s government depends. So in the end, the Prime Minister always backed down, and the final measures were weaker. By the way, these were not only ultra-Orthodox cities, but also Arab cities, where the communal lifestyle is also very intense. Both groups do not have such ties to the majority society and therefore do not always follow the regulations associated with the covid.
Lidovky.cz: So what does the minister say with his departure?
Litzman’s departure is a protest against the imposition of restrictions before high holidays, when most people of the year go to the synagogue. This does not mean that the coalition will end, it is only his personal decision, but it is a gesture to Netanyahu that this is a sensitively perceived area. The fragmentation of the political scene in Israel seems beautiful here, because the closure of the Orthodox districts is simply politically impenetrable in the current constellation. Unorthodox Jews are now upset because, in their eyes, the national quarantine had to be approached because the local, targeted one did not pass for political reasons.
Lidovky.cz: What do the Rosh Hashanah holidays look like?
The new year begins with a ten-day period of questioning, when, so to speak, everyone has to clean up the book of life, recite all the wrongs and strained relationships, and make amends. It all culminates in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when the book of life closes. On this day, the Jews fasted for the families to gather for their first meal. At the mentioned Sukkot, the end of the harvest is celebrated and it is also a reminder of the exodus from Egypt. The Jews set up a so-called Suk, a kind of tent, on their land, and they invite friends over for food, so again a very community holiday.
Lidovky.cz: Ultra-Orthodox groups rejected some measures in the spring, saying that they were interfering in their faith. Does this trend continue?
I don’t think they rejected them outright, it only took them longer than those rabbinic authorities to acknowledge that coronavirus is a really serious thing, that it’s not enough to just pray, which I don’t want to downplay, but just in these communities, what the rabbi says is more important, than what the prime minister says. It was a slower response. But a much more serious problem is that these are poor families, where even eight children and their parents live in a small apartment, any separation of an infected individual from others is completely unrealistic. When one gets sick in the family, the others often become infected. And if they have a Shabbat dinner where one is positive, (Shabbat is the designation for the Sabbath, ie the sacred rest of the seventh day of the week, in Yiddish, ed. note), so many other relatives will be infected.
Lidovky.cz: Are veils worn in Israel?
Veils are mandatory, so you must have them at least indoors. The reluctance to wear them here was somewhat similar to that in the Czech Republic, in Israel it is exacerbated by the terrible heat that will be there for a few more weeks. People in their forties then wear veils over their mouths, but not over their noses, which is such a classic. But otherwise, I think that’s one of the things that Israelis respect.
Lidovky.cz: What did the period after the first wave look like in the country, when numbers were slowly declining?
In this, Israel was again very similar to the Czech Republic, so I also think that it pays to watch what is happening there now. I don’t mean to say that exactly the same thing awaits us, but it is the same case where the premise of the earth is on the tail. It relaxed there and very quickly. The children returned to schools, which became the center of the infection. Moreover, Israel’s acute problem, which has been going on for many months, has long been a temporary and now, moreover, disputed government. For example, Israel does not even have an approved budget for 2020.
Many decisions are not only motivated by health or scientific interests, but also by political considerations. Benjamin Netanyahu is very similar to the Czech Prime Minister Babiš in this, he leads a permanent campaign and is ready to announce elections at any time. He likes to make popular decisions. In this respect, I think that Israel has also wasted the calmer summer time, when it was supposed to prepare for the second wave.
Lidovky.cz: How does the current situation wave to Netanyahu’s popularity?
I dare not anticipate anything. Netanyahu’s preferences, no matter what happens, are relatively stable, which is again a parallel to the Czech prime minister. He has fresh success, see. normalization of relations with Bahrain and the Emirates, so he is now visiting Washington, where the agreement on the establishment of diplomatic relations will be ceremoniously signed. Israel, on the other hand, has had a rapid rise in unemployment since the spring, with an awful lot of people now worse economically because the government has not been generous in its compensation and will not be able to afford it in the future due to economic problems.
It will be decisive how the average Likud voters will feel, which we can very simply imagine as the owners of the falafel stand. Such an owner is simply very bad economically, has no financial reserves and almost went bankrupt in the spring. Netanyahu is the master of the campaign, and even the dirty one, he will certainly look for a way to explain to people that it is not his fault, but it is difficult to say how they will react.
Lidovky.cz: Did a wave of resistance rise in Israel?
Demonstrations against Netanyahu have been ongoing for several months. It is such a disparate coalition of people that some protest against being ruled by a prosecuted prime minister or disagree with the government’s handling of the covid crisis. For example, owners of restaurants and fitness centers have recently joined the protests, who will now have to close for at least three weeks. For example, with those falafels – this is probably something as popular as a hot dog in the Czech Republic – some delivery service will work, but these are simply not stalls that would work through e-shops, or could fully function without customers who just stops at one falafel and a piece of speech.
Lidovky.cz: Did the Israeli government learn from the first wave of the disease?
Netanyahu puts a lot of emphasis on the success of the government in the spring and wants to make people feel that Israel will certainly be able to do it even now. He also praised the space in Sunday’s speech to the nation, during which he announced the planned imposition of quarantine. However, he somehow forgets to mention that the rapid deterioration of the situation is also the result of non-emphatic measures by the government, which should also be responsible for it.