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Israel Tax office hit in suspected arson attack amid economic protests

Police on Wednesday were investigating a possible arson attack against a government building in a Tel Aviv suburb that was suspected of being linked to protests calling for greater economic assistance to small businesses hurt by coronavirus-related restrictions on commerce.

The building in Holon houses the local branches of the state Tax Authority and National Insurance Institute, the government agency in charge of unemployment benefits.

The building was lightly damaged in the fire overnight; there were no injuries.

The suspected vandals also spray-painted “the blood of the self-employed is not worthless” on the building, in an apparent reference to ongoing protests by the self-employed and small businesses for greater government financial support amid the pandemic.

No arrests have been made.

National Insurance Institute employees who went to the building after the fire said they found two Molotov cocktails at the scene, Channel 13 news reported.

“The attempt to damage the offices… is in itself a criminal act and the timing, on the evening of the 72nd Independence Day of the state, only adds to its severity,” the Tax Authority was quoted saying by the network.

It also condemned the attack in light of “the tremendous effort that Tax Authority workers are investing to help make it easier for businesses with an emphasis on the self-employed.”

Some small business owners have held protests in recent weeks calling for the government to provide greater financial relief to weather the economic fallout caused by the imposition of far-reaching restrictions meant to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Amid complaints it was not doing enough to help businesses, the government last week approved an NIS 8 billion ($2.27 billion) plan to increase support for self-employed Israelis and small business owners.

With the number of new infections in the country decreasing, the government has began easing restrictions on economic activity, with most businesses allowed to reopen as of Sunday if they adhere to health directives.

However, malls and open-air markets remained shuttered, prompting protests Sunday by stall owners at Jerusalem’s famed Mahane Yehuda market against the continued closure.

Despite the new, more relaxed rules, small businesspeople expressed concerns about their future economic viability, claiming that they were being allowed to resume operations only under onerously restrictive conditions that would deter most customers, solely so that the state can justify denying them compensation for their losses.

As of this week, the unemployment rate in Israel was at 27.4 percent with over 1.4 million Israelis out of work, up from a record low of under 4% before the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

Source: TOI Staff