Health Minister Yaakov Litzman
Health Minister Yaakov LitzmanPhoto: Hadas Parush/Flash90

Dozens of graffiti messages criticizing Israel’s health minister, Yaakov Litzman, were spray painted overnight Saturday in a haredi Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood that has been locked down to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Among the 50 messages that appeared overnight in Mea Shearim were “Litzman Killer” and “Litzman Amalek,” Israel’s Channel 12 News reported. Amalek refers to the Biblical nation that is the mortal enemy of the Jews and that Jews have been commanded by God to destroy.

Litzman, who heads the haredi United Torah Judaism party and has been diagnosed with coronavirus himself, has emerged as a polarizing figure in Israel’s battle against Covid-19.

Some of his critics say he downplayed the pandemic initially and was slow to institute, and then enforce, social distancing measures in the haredi community. After his diagnosis, reports in the Hebrew press said he had attended an illicit prayer gathering of the sort that his ministry had banned. (Litzman said he followed social distancing rules when attending prayer services.)

But in the haredi world, some fault him for closing down synagogues and limiting communal life. In Mea Shearim, even as most businesses have closed and most residents have begun staying indoors, sizable protests have taken aim at Litzman’s ministry and the regulations it is imposing.

Several Jerusalem neighborhoods with high coronavirus infection rates, including Mea Shearim, went into lockdown Sunday afternoon, with entrances and exits manned by hundreds of police. The lockdown is in effect until Wednesday.

That lockdown follows several days of intense nationwide restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of disease that coincided with the first days of Passover, a holiday when people traditionally gather for communal meals and outings.