A senior Blue and White official lashed out at the government’s economic plan for small businesses, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to meet with representatives of the self-employed in a bid to fend off a large rally against the government’s virus response, according to a television report on Friday.
Netanyahu on Thursday evening unveiled a new financial aid package for businesses and workers who lost their livelihood due to coronavirus closures, acknowledging that some government steps to reopen the economy had been premature, causing the current significant wave of infection.
The Blue and White party officially welcomed the plan on Thursday, saying its leader, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, had praised the “broad fulfillment of Blue and White’s social and economic demands.”
But an unnamed official in Blue and White, Netanyahu’s largest coalition partner, accused the prime minister of seeking to call another round of elections, and throwing money at Israelis in a pre-election bid to curry favor.
“Netanyahu is pushing with all of his might toward elections, throwing money on citizens in order to break up the government from March,” the official was quoted by Channel 12 as saying, adding that “even the Haredim [Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox political allies] know Netanyahu’s pushing for elections.”
The comments came after reports said Shas leader Aryeh Deri recently slammed the phone down on Netanyahu, accusing him of seeking to call elections. Israel formed a unity government in May after three consecutive elections failed to yield a clear winner.
Under the coalition agreement between Likud and Blue and White, Benny Gantz is meant to take over as prime minister in the fall of 2021. Netanyahu has said he’ll keep to the deal, but is widely expected to seek the dissolution of the government to avert the transfer of power.
Likud and Blue and White are also mired in a fight over the state budget, with Netanyahu demanding a one-year budget and Blue and White insisting on a two-year plan.
The official said the government’s coronavirus economic plan “has no engines of growth, it’s designed only to shower money on Israeli citizens without rescuing the economy.”
“If the plan [Netanyahu’s economic plan] looks a year ahead, why is it impossible to build a budget for a year and a quarter?” the official added.
Likud responded to the accusations, saying: “All economists agree that Israel needs a one-year budget now, and immediately. While the prime minister works around the clock to create this budget in parallel to the coronavirus financial aid package, Blue and White are torpedoing it for political reasons.”
Tamping down public anger
The prime minister is seeking to quell public anger by small business owners over the spiraling economic crisis spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, according to Channel 12.
As Israel contends with an alarming surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, Netanyahu is facing a tide of criticism over the government’s handling of the economic fallout of the pandemic, with polls indicating growing disapproval of his stewardship of the economy.
Representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office set a meeting on Friday with organizers of the Saturday night rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. The organizers will decide whether to proceed with the demonstration following the meeting, a decision which hinges on whether the premier accepts revisions to the government’s economic plan, the channel said.
In a press conference from the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on Thursday, Netanyahu said the reopening of much of the economy had in retrospect been instituted “too early.”
“I take responsibility for this step, and I take responsibility for fixing it,” he said.
Unemployment at the height of the pandemic reached over 25 percent, with over a million Israelis out of work; now, over 800,000 are still unemployed, with that figure again starting to climb in light of renewed restrictions put in place to combat the spike in infections.
There has been widespread anger from various sectors of the economy whose members say the government is not doing enough to help them weather the crisis, accompanied by outrage over the alleged misdirection of financial aid and the bureaucratic complexities of obtaining assistance.
Amid the growing anger, a mass demonstration has been called for Saturday night in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to protest the lack of government aid for workers hit by the virus restrictions and delays in receiving the promised funds.
“I hear you,” Netanyahu said Thursday, addressing the many people hurt by the crisis, many of whom are pushing for anti-government protests. “I hear your troubles and am determined to provide the necessary help. I work day and night for you.”
Netanyahu said the government had ordered the acceleration of previous payouts, which many have said didn’t arrive.
The premier said an immediate stipend for self-employed Israelis would be paid out immediately, as early as next week, “without any conditions or bureaucracy, without even Knesset legislation.” He said there had been significant bureaucratic difficulties in approving those payments.
The payment will be of up to NIS 7,500 ($2,170), he said.
Other parts of the aid package included a “safety net” for salaried employees and for businesses, as well as expanding the eligibility for unemployment benefits.
Small businesses will receive NIS 6,000 once every two months, he announced. Big businesses will receive aid totaling up to NIS 500,000, depending on how much the business was harmed due to the crisis.
The last few weeks have seen the reversal of many of the gains made in the fight against the coronavirus in recent months. New daily virus cases, which had dropped to low double digits through most of May, have soared to over a thousand a day, and the number of active cases has reached an all-time high.
The country had been placed on a nationwide lockdown for about two months at the start of the outbreak, but removed most of its restrictions by May to reopen the economy.
The current increase in weekly infections in Israel is one of the highest in the world, according to a chart published Monday afternoon by the Health Ministry.
The government on Monday passed a raft of new restrictions to limit the spread of the virus.
The restrictions limited the number of people allowed in restaurants and synagogues, reduced the number of passengers permitted on public transportation, hiked fines for not wearing face masks, and shut down event halls, cultural venues, swimming pools, gyms, bars and nightclubs.