Israeli police clash with mourners at rabbi’s funeral

ASHDOD, Israel (AP) — Israeli police on Monday scuffled with mourners at the funeral of a revered rabbi — the latest in a string of clashes between security forces and ultra-Orthodox Jews violating a national coronavirus lockdown order.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police reached an agreement ahead of time with community leaders to allow a limited number of mourners to attend the funeral procession for Rabbi Mordechai Leifer.

But thousands of people showed up for the funeral, and police said the crowd did not honor the pledge to maintain social distancing.

“Police cordoned off the area and when thousands of people arrived, police eventually dispersed the crowds in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in a public area,” Rosenfeld said.

Video circulating on social media showed police officers pushing back members of the crowd, including an unmasked man, as a crowd screamed “Nazi” at them. Most people in the videos were wearing masks, although some were not. Police said no arrests were made.

Leifer, 64, was the spiritual leader of the Pittsburgh Hasidic dynasty, a small ultra-Orthodox sect that was founded in the Pennsylvania city early last century before relocating to the southern Israeli city of Ashdod. Leifer reportedly died after a long bout with COVID-19.

Israeli authorities have struggled to impose national lockdown orders in ultra-Orthodox areas, where some residents have resisted instructions to stay away from synagogues and avoid large communal gatherings during the current High Holiday season.

The ultra-Orthodox community, which makes up just over 10% of Israel’s 9 million people, has experienced a disproportionate number of coronavirus cases.

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