BNEI BRAK, Israel—Israel’s attempt to suppress a roiling pandemic has collided with a hard-hit ultraorthodox community that has proven resistant to lockdowns and suspicious of the nation’s mass vaccination campaign.
On Sunday, thousands of ultraorthodox mourners attended two funerals of famous rabbis who died from the coronavirus. The mourners flouted bans on public gatherings of no more than 10 people on the same day that Israel’s cabinet extended a strict lockdown that includes barring all international flights. Thousands of men dressed in black wool hats and suits crowded together, many without masks, images of the event show. Fearing violence, police steered away from arrests while some top Israeli politicians seethed.
“This is how unequal enforcement looks,” said Benny Gantz, the defense minister and head of the Blue and White party. “Millions of families and children are locked in their homes and abide by the rules while thousands of haredim crowd the funeral, most of them even without masks,” he said, using the Hebrew word for ultraorthodox.
The funerals followed anti-lockdown protests in Bnei Brak and other ultraorthodox cities the week before, in which ultraorthodox men threw rocks at police, lit dumpsters on fire and knocked down street signs and light poles.
Israel’s health officials have also struggled to coax ultraorthodox to take a Covid-19 vaccine. While much of Israel has lined up for vaccinations, the ultraorthodox population has been slower to get on board, with some doubting the safety of the vaccine and others suggesting the country’s citizens are being used to test its efficacy.