2 arrested as artists, performers demonstrate for support amid virus crisis

Thousands protest opposite Finance Ministry, demanding government provide financial assistance for cultural industry that has been shut down for months due to coronavirus outbreak

Workers from the culture and art industry clash with police during a protest outside the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on June 15, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Workers from the culture and art industry clash with police during a protest outside the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on June 15, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Thousands of people from the arts and culture world demonstrated outside the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on Monday, demanding that the government offer financial aid for their industry that has been devastated by months of lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Two people were arrested as the protest came to an end, when dozens of demonstrators blocked an intersection in the area, disrupting traffic. One of those arrested was Amit Lior, chair of the Israel Screenwriters’ Guild, Channel 12 news reported.

While most industries have been able to get back to work in recent weeks, large gatherings, particularly in closed spaces, are still banned. This has left theaters, concert halls and other venues shuttered and kept artists, producers and support staff out of work.

Venues had been scheduled to resume operations in a limited capacity on Sunday, June 14, but this has been delayed until June 21, at the earliest, due to a new surge of infections in the country, though the date has not been finalized.

The demonstration was attended by a host of Israeli celebrities, some of whom addressed the crowd, among them singers Rita, Rami Kleinstein, and Miri Mesika, and actor Avi Grainik.

Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid also came by to show his support for artists.

The protest came as part of an ongoing campaign by artists and cultural event producers for government assistance to the 200,000 people working in their industry, as part of the aid package prepared to restart the economy, as Israel rolls back its lockdown.

Last week, event organizers and show production teams used a convoy of trucks to bring traffic to a crawl on the main artery leading to the capital in another act of protest.

“It is sad to meet the people that I’ve known for so many years under these circumstances,” Rita said. “I am here because I am concerned for all the people who work behind the scenes in the world of culture and music… Every one has a family and children to support and it is not happening. I hope our voice will resonate, bring a change that will save the industry.”

Screen capture from video of singer Rita addressing a protest demonstration on behalf of the cultural and performance industry workers demand financial assistance from the government during the coronavirus outbreak, June 15, 2020.

“We, people of the cultural world, are the first to volunteer at every opportunity, in all the hospitals, in every bomb shelter, under fire,” Mesika said. “Now it is our time. I call on the general public to join us in our outcry.”

Actor and comic Israel Katorza declared “Artists also need money, there are artists who are down to their last crust of bread, and the government must become involved.”

The protest organizer, event producer Rami Beja, said he came with a message for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “this is not a political demonstration. This is a battle for our livelihood. People are wounded because they are bleeding from their pockets, we have no livelihood.”

“We are asking that you see because we are not invisible,” said producer Dana Farber. “We are people, parents, children, friends, hardworking people who love to work and fulfill dreams.”

In response to the protest, the Prime Minister’s Office invited representatives to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, media reported.

As the demonstration was underway, the Knesset coronavirus committee, which is monitoring the country’s response to the virus outbreak, met to discuss the impact on the culture world.

The committee decided that on Wednesday the coronavirus cabinet, a forum of ministers charged with dealing with the virus outbreak, should discuss allowing events attended by up to 500 people as well as allowing for special permission to be given for even larger events.

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