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Owners, workers protest government in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv

Stall owners at Mahane Yehuda, central Jerusalem’s famed shuk (out-door market) protested at the entrance of the market on Sunday morning due to its extended closure, despite the government easing restrictions on other businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Clashes began between the large crowd of marketplace workers and police who arrived at the scene.

One worker was arrested and fined after failing to follow the requests of an officer.

A sign at the entrance of the market read, “Welcome to IKEA Mahane Yehuda,” a gesture referring to anger sparked by the opening of IKEA stores in Israel – despite the danger of long lines and crowded stores putting customers at risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Later on Sunday, Army Radio reported that the long-time owner of one store in the market committed suicide, citing financial fears.

“I am horrified and pained by the bitter news arriving from Mahane Yehuda,” said Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion. “A business owner that could not stand the financial whirlwind has ended his life. I urge the government to open the market immediately. The livelihood of thousands of families is in danger. Any delay could cost human lives.”

Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, municipal wardens and police dispersed tent protests initiated by self-employed workers and small business owners during the weekend on Rothschild Boulevard and Volvovski-Karni Garden, near the Arlozorov Interchange, to oppose the government’s response to the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis.

Dozens of demonstrators were ordered to immediately leave after violating Health Ministry rules on crowding and municipal restrictions on establishing protest tents.

According to municipal laws, setting up tents is permitted for 48 hours, but only after giving 12 hours notice to the municipality and fulfilling a range of demands.

“In a scandalous and anti-democratic move, the authorities decided to evacuate the tent protest on Rothschild Boulevard,” protester Costa Black, a restaurant manager from Eilat, told Ynet.

“Freedom of speech and the right to protest are basic rights in democracy and it saddens us that there are those who wish to crush them.”

In a statement, the Tel Aviv Municipality emphasized that it saw freedom of speech as a “premier value” and had approved tens of protests in recent weeks and would continue to do so.

The municipality also said it had started to prepare Rabin Square to host protests safely, given increasing demand by the business sector, including by marking spaces two meters apart on the floor.

The number of new applicants claiming unemployment benefits since the start of the coronavirus outbreak surpassed one million for the first time on Sunday, according to data published by the Israeli Employment Service.

More than 1,011,000 individuals have applied for benefits since the start of March – among them, 87.9% were employees placed on unpaid leave, and 7.25% were made redundant. The unemployment rate currently stands at 27.4%, with just 4,769 applicants reporting that they have returned to work.

“We are looking forward to a significant trend change following Independence Day, and most importantly, the return of hundreds of thousands of workers from unpaid leave,” said Israeli Employment Service director-general Rami Garor.

Seeking to bolster the return of jobseekers to the workforce, the government announced plans on Sunday evening to allocate an additional budget of NIS 6 billion to developing a model for increased re-employment.

Details of the plan are expected to be published in the “coming days” following deliberations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Bank of Israel Governor Prof. Amir Yaron. The expansion of the government’s existence financial aid package will require further approval by the Knesset.

At a Knesset committee meeting on Sunday morning, Israel Restaurants Association CEO Shai Berman told lawmakers that the restaurant industry was losing NIS 500 million per month as a result of the current restrictions – including new permissions enabling both deliveries and take-away service by restaurants and cafes.

“People in the [restaurant] industry have not seen a single shekel, as the bank traditionally does not like lending to restaurants,” said Berman, adding that 80% of the sector is not working. “The easiest thing is to complain about the banks, but they are a business and the responsibility belongs to the state. The compensation plan is lean, stingy and without a real vision.”

Berman argued that it is necessary to give business owners in the sector a financial incentive to recommence operations, rather than declaring bankruptcy.

Celebrated chef and television personality Haim Cohen told the Knesset committee that restaurants must be permitted to operate at 50% capacity in order to be profitable. The approval of take-aways does not help, he said, as the public are now in a routine of cooking at home.

“The policy of the Finance Ministry is that we are all thieves, that everyone wants loans that they will not return,” said Cohen. “The government needs to help and decide whether it wants to be a welfare state for the unemployed or a state with engines of growth. We are not thieves, we work very hard and pay lots of taxes.”

As Muslims commence the month of Ramadan, Cohen said he would offer his restaurant to Arab chefs capable of preparing iftar meals for the public.

It is very important at this time to keep the solidarity among Israeli citizens,” Cohen said.

Source: JPost