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Covid-19: Israeli man arrested for tricking ex into quarantine four times

Police said the suspect, a health ministry employee, sent messages on four separate occasions to his ex-girlfriend telling her she needed to isolate
An Israeli woman wearing a protective mask due to the Covid-19 pandemic sits on a park bench by feeding pigeons in Jerusalem on 16 April 2020 (2020)

An Israeli man has been arrested on suspicion of tricking his ex-girlfriend into quarantining for Covid-19 despite it being medically unnecessary for her to do so.

Police said the 35-year-old, only identified as working for the health ministry and a resident of northern Israel, is suspected of various offences committed over several months, including misuse of power of office, fraud, violation of privacy and false imprisonment.

The case has again raised concerns about rising cases of domestic abuse in Israel during the country's pandemic-induced lockdowns.

Police said the suspect "sent on four separate occasions messages to his ex-girlfriend's phone about her immediate need to enter isolation due to exposure to a confirmed coronavirus patient, without her actually being exposed to such a person".

They said the evidence had been handed to the justice ministry ahead of a possible indictment for the suspect, who they described as "an external employee working at one of the health ministry's call centres."

Rise in domestic abuse

Israeli currently has over 180,000 citizens in isolation due to feared exposure to Covid-19, while almost two million having faced a two-week confinement since the beginning of the pandemic, which has so far claimed 3,800 lives in the country.

Campaigners have noted a huge rise in cases of domestic abuse since the beginning of the pandemic in March. Domestic violence hotlines have reported three- and four-fold increases in calls in contrast to the same time period last year, while emergency shelters for battered women are full.

Huge rise in violence against women in Israel met by poor response by government
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According to Ynet news, 20 women were murdered by their spouses or family members in 2020 as of November, up from 13 in 2019.

Israeli women's organisation Na'amat estimates that some 200,000 women face violence from their spouses or intimate partners in Israel, a crisis spanning the country and affecting all segments of society.

"We were seeing normative families reporting violence for the first time, as well as a worsening of the situation in families that have long been in the cycle of violence," Rivka Neuman, head of the women's advancement division at the Women's International Zionist Organisation (Wizo), which operates two shelters and a hotline in Israel, told Middle East Eye in November.

The government has been criticised for its slow response to the rise in domestic abuse.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu further stoked the controversy in November when he told the Israeli Knesset that if society understood that animals should be protected from violence, it should understand the same about women.

"Women aren't animals that you can beat, and today we say you don't hit animals either," Netanyahu said.

"We understand that animals, too, have understanding and intelligence and cognition and feelings. We rightly have compassion for animals. Well, women are animals, children are animals - animals with rights..."

Netanyahu's remarks led to a flood of comments in the mainstream press, as well as on social media. MK Ofer Shelah from the Yesh Atid party quipped: "The prime minister is an animal too. He has intelligence and cognition and rights - such as the right to utter such nonsense."