POLICE have urged people within the Jewish community who believe they have seen breaches of COVID-19 restrictions not to take matters into their own hands by harassing suspected offenders, but instead to report any potential breaches to police.
In an interview with The AJN, Inspector Nigel McGuire-White, the local area commander for Port Phillip, said police have had almost daily reports from members of the ultra-Orthodox Satmar community in Balaclava that they have been harassed by other Jews, believed to be from the Adass community, accusing the Satmars of breaching regulations.
McGuire-White said the Satmar group’s activities breached regulations earlier this year, and while their current meetings technically pass as “support group meetings”, any breaches of the regulations reported to police will be investigated and the law will be enforced.
In any case, further clarification will be needed as to whether “support group meetings” will still be permitted under the Stage 4 lockdown and obviously meetings will not be permitted during the 8pm-5am curfew hours.
McGuire-White said some in the Jewish community “are getting frustrated because they see people who they believe are breaching the CHO [Chief Health Officer]’s directions”.
But he cautioned against engaging in disputes, urging instead that suspected breaches be promptly reported.
Community Security Group (CSG) CEO Justin Kagan told The AJN, “The Satmars’ gatherings are not in the spirit of the Victorian Public Health Orders in place and we hope they will come to understand that what they are doing is not in their best interests, or the interests of the Jewish or Victorian communities.”
His words reflect a joint statement last month by the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, Rabbinical Council of Victoria, state Liberal MP David Southwick and federal Labor MP Josh Burns saying, “The Victorian Jewish community has zero tolerance for those who ignore the law and put lives at risk – behaviours that are in absolute contravention to Judaism’s most basic tenets.”
However, McGuire-White said the Jewish community generally “have been fantastic and have shown leadership” during the pandemic. He paid tribute to the CSG and rabbinical leaders for working with police to ensure community safety and also endorsed the work being done by local MPs in keeping the Jewish community updated on the latest issues.
He said the move to a Stage 4 lockdown “is really tough” and people’s patience and courtesy will be tested as Victoria moves through this stressful period.