Lockdown rebellion: Business heads warn Netanyahu of disaster, threaten defiance
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As gov't set to impose 14-day national shutdown next week

Lockdown rebellion: Business heads warn Netanyahu of disaster, threaten defiance

Letter to PM says economic damage will last a decade; shops, restaurants, gyms vow to remain open, saying a second shutdown will destroy them financially

Illustrative: Mask-clad Israeli restaurant owners and others protest against lockdown measures in Tel Aviv on July 17, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Illustrative: Mask-clad Israeli restaurant owners and others protest against lockdown measures in Tel Aviv on July 17, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Top business leaders warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday that a new national lockdown would be disastrous to the local economy, as many businesses threatened to defy closure orders and open up anyway.

Channel 13 reported that the Manufacturers Association of Israel, the Chamber of Commerce and other business bodies wrote in a letter to the premier that a new lockdown would cause a further wave of unemployment and bring about “an ‘economic coronavirus’ whose effect will be far more destructive than the medical coronavirus,” and warned that the effects of the harm to the economy could be felt for a decade.

They said “the expected steps will cause mortal injury needlessly… businesses and the economy must not be closed down. We must learn to live alongside the coronavirus while maintaining [health] regulations and aggressive enforcement.”

Channel 12 reported that hundreds and perhaps thousands of business owners could refuse to shut down if closure orders come, being unable to withstand the financial burden of a further shutdown.

“Hundreds of [restaurants] have said they’ll open and it will come to thousands,” top restaurateur Tomer Mor told the network. “The holidays are a critical time for us… today every shekel counts and people are fighting for work. Thousands of businesses won’t stand the burden and will close.”

Restaurant owners and workers protest in Haifa against the lack of financial compensation during the coronavirus crisis, July 21, 2020. ( Flash90)

He added that government promises of compensation down the road were irrelevant. “Many months pass between the damage and government compensation,” with businesses collapsing well before the money arrives, he said.

The country’s gym association also threatened to ignore shutdown orders unless the government provided proper solutions to keep the industry afloat.

The association said it had seen a huge amount of cancellations of subscriptions due to the pandemic and the closures and restrictions it has brought on.

“We will not be able to survive another shutdown without cooperation with the government. We will not halt our operations and will remain open alongside our brothers in the restaurant business,” the association said in a statement.

The National Student Council also protested plans to shut schools for a month, warning of long-term harm to students, both academically and socially. “We won’t let them turn us into a ‘corona generation,'” a statement said.

Meanwhile, a parents association warned that there would not be distance learning if schools were shut down.

On Wednesday small businesses and self-employed workers threatened “anarchy” in case of a lockdown and said they would keep their businesses open unless they are promised financial compensation in advance.

At a press conference in Tel Aviv, Roee Cohen, the president of the Israel Federation of Small Business Organizations, said that “another closure is a death sentence for businesses” and that the government has “long lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the public,” including the business sector.

Israelis, food industry workers and owners protest against government emergency regulations outside a restaurant in southern Tel Aviv on July 17, 2020. ( Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“We are marching towards anarchy. We have children to worry about and mouths to feed,” and at the end of the day “they are the ones we will have in front of our eyes, and not the fines” imposed by inspectors. “The fear that we will not have bread on the table is greater and more real than the fear of getting infected with the coronavirus.”

As the number of virus cases skyrocketed, ministers voted on Thursday to impose a full lockdown nationwide starting next week ahead of the fall holiday period. The lockdown will take place in three stages, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry.

Specific dates for each stage have not been announced and the implementation of the second and third rounds of restrictions will depend on the outcome of the previous phase.

Hebrew media said the first stage will likely go into effect shortly before the onset of Rosh Hashanah, on September 18, the second phase around October 1, and the last around October 15.

In the first stage of restrictions, Israelis’ movement will be limited to 500 meters from their homes, the educational system will be largely closed as will businesses, except for essential services.

In the second phase, transit between cities will not be allowed. Outdoor gatherings will be capped at 20 people, and indoor gatherings at 10, and leisure and entertainment activities will remain closed. Business places will be barred from receiving customers.

Israeli police seen at the entrance to the neighborhood of Ramot in Jerusalem as Israel enforces a lockdown, September 9, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the third and final phase, the government will reimpose the so-called “traffic light” plan, which addresses each city and town based on its morbidity rate.

A full cabinet vote, with more details, will be held on Sunday.

Small business owners and self-employed people in Israel were among the most affected by the lockdown Israel imposed earlier this year to fend off the coronavirus pandemic.

Figures released on Wednesday by the Federation of Small Business Organizations warned that the cost of a lockdown during the Jewish High Holidays, which start on September 18, would be NIS 13.6 billion ($4 billion). For the wholesale and retail trade and food and hospitality services industries, the hit is expected to be NIS 4.8 billion, and the damage to the art, entertainment and leisure industry will total NIS 1.6 billion for the lockdown period.

Shai Berman, the CEO of the association of restaurants and bars, said that the sector entered the coronavirus pandemic with 14,000 active businesses and 203,000 employees, he said. Today, because of the first lockdown and the social distancing measures imposed in a bid to stem the spread of the virus, there are 12,000 active businesses and just 120,000 employees working in the sector.

A renewed lockdown will lead to the closure of an additional 2,000 businesses in the restaurant and bar sector, he said, and the firing of an additional 20,000 workers.

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