Politics Complicate Coronavirus Talks in Israel
Israel’s Health Ministry on Tuesday recommended a one-week extension of the national lockdown begun a month ago, as the sweeping restrictions have evidently failed to put a dent in the number of coronavirus infections and deaths. The total closure, set to expire on Sunday, has shuttered the entire Israeli workforce and school system. However, such an extension is far from assured, as Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz promised on Tuesday to block any further emergency decrees until Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his ultra-Orthodox allies in parliament tighten control over their constituents’ towns and neighborhoods. Over the past few weeks, some ultra-Orthodox communities have resembled war zones as residents refusing to abide by shutdown restrictions clashed with police, setting fire to vehicles and rioting in the streets. Gantz has demanded an increase in the fines levied against ultra-Orthodox schools and businesses flouting closure orders, yet Netanyahu, facing elections in which he’ll depend on his allies’ support, has so far wavered on the issue. Despite Israel’s world-pacing vaccination effort, the country has suffered its worst month yet since the pandemic began, notching 1,200 of the 4,500 total deaths in January alone. More than 10% of all Israelis tested were found positive for the virus on Monday.