Israel’s battle with the spread of the coronavirus is threatening to split the fragile coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The embattled Likud leader announced a second nationwide lockdown a week ago, becoming the first country in the world to take such a drastic measure. The lockdown will come into effect on Friday and is expected to last over three weeks which will coincide with the Jewish New Year.
The decision triggered a backlash with members of his own coalition government threatening to exit the fragile union of extreme nationalist and religious parties.Despite the alarming rise in the number of cases, Housing and Construction Minister, Yaakov Litzman, warned Netanyahu that he would resign if a closure is imposed during the Jewish holidays. Litzman, who leads the United Torah Judaism, an ultra-Orthodox party, said the measures would prevent Jews from celebrating their religious holidays, including Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, which this year falls on 27 September.
“In July and August, you left everything open,” Litzman is reported telling Netanyahu. “You could have imposed a closure in August and avoid it.”
With Netanyahu previously accused of surrendering to Haredi pressure, his reaction to Litzman’s threat will be watched carefully. Following last week’s announcement of a second lockdown, leaders of the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community were enraged. To diffuse the situation, synagogues were permitted to remain open.
Commenting on what was described as surrendering to Haredi pressure, Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg said that this is “much more” than political. “The farce of the ‘red’ cities is further proof that a prime minister accused of bribery is incapable of fulfilling his role… Netanyahu needs this alliance [with the ultra-Orthodox parties] to gain immunity from justice, and we will all pay the price in health and life.”
The collapse of the coalition would force Israel to hold its fourth election in under two years after previous polls left no clear winners and no coalition could be formed.