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In Israel, the Ultra-Orthodox Face Their Own Coronavirus Battle

As is the case in New York City, ḥaredi Jews in Israel are receiving special scrutiny for their alleged and real violations of social-distancing restrictions. Most recently, pictures have circulated of closely packed mourners at the funeral of the Pittsburgher rebbe, who himself died of complications from COVID-19. And as in New York, not all criticism of such scenes is external. Haviv Rettig Gur writes:

[T]here is another group troubled and frustrated by ḥaredi behavior: the Ḥaredim themselves, whose acknowledgment of their community’s failures to cope with the pandemic, and the accompanying frustration and despair, now dominate their media and politics. Accusations of betrayal course through the community’s internal debates.

During the cholera epidemic that struck his city of Vilna in 1848, Rabbi Israel Lipkin of Salant told his followers that they were permitted to eat in small portions during the Yom Kippur fast if they feared that strict adherence to the fast would weaken them and render them more susceptible to the illness.

According to a later account of the decision by his son Yitzḥak Lipkin, the great Lithuanian sage was concerned not only about his community’s health but about its reputation as well. He feared that a fast that weakened his followers during an epidemic would lead non-Jews to say “that it is for the faith of Israel that they brought the sickness upon themselves.”

An anxious exhaustion has set in across broad swaths of the Israeli ḥaredi community, which feels uniquely threatened by the pandemic and the lockdown. Ḥaredi journalists and leaders don’t know how to get their communities to abide by the government-set restrictions, even as the virus cuts a deadly path through their neighborhoods, felling family members and beloved rabbis. They know, keenly and viscerally, how bad they look. They have no idea what to do about it.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Coronavirus, Israeli society, Ultra-Orthodox

A Senior Saudi Political Figure Takes the Palestinian Leadership to Task

In an extended television interview with an Arab broadcaster, Prince Bandar bin Sultan—who served for twenty years as the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., for a decade as head of the Saudi National Security Council, and two years as intelligence chief—responded forcefully to the Palestinian claim that the Gulf states have, by normalizing relations with Israel, “stabbed the Palestinians in the back.” Defending Saudi devotion to the Palestinian cause, Prince Bandar delivered a lengthy history of his country’s role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which he bluntly upbraided Palestinian leaders, and Yasir Arafat above all, for squandering chances at statehood and for their lack of “ethics.” While Bandar’s sentiments can hardly be described as pro-Israel, he asserted that the Palestinian leaders are every bit as responsible as the Jewish state for the plight of their people:

[After the UN issued its 1947 Resolution 181 for partitioning Palestine], a Jewish state called Israel was recognized, which became a member of the United Nations. As for the Arab side, the Palestinians rejected the resolution, and as usual, we [Saudis] supported their rejection. Many years later, the main demand of our Palestinian brothers has been UN resolution 181, which is no longer on the table. No one is discussing it now. This was the beginning, and such events, as I mentioned, were repeated once, twice, and three times.

After the Oslo Accords, I asked Abu Amar, [i.e., Arafat], God rest his soul—and as they say remember the virtues of your dead—what he thought of the autonomy provisions [offered to the Palestinians under the 1978] Camp David Treaty. He said, “Bandar, Camp David’s autonomy provisions were ten times better than the Oslo Accords.” I said, “Well, Mr. President, why did you not agree to it?” He said, “I wanted to, but Hafez al-Assad threatened to kill me and to drive a wedge among the Palestinians, turning them against me.” I thought to myself, so he could have been one martyr and given his life to save millions of Palestinians, but it was as God willed it.

Bandar recounts another incident where he came to Arafat with an offer from the Reagan administration to pressure Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians, but Arafat stalled pointlessly until the offer expired. In short, Bandar’s view of things reflects the old adage “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Read more at Al Arabiya

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia, Yasir Arafat