1. Cash? Check. Anger? Check: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan of stimulus checks for all citizens is met with a wave of anger and indignation over its failure to distinguish between those in financial need and those whose income was not affected by the pandemic.
- The plan will see couples with one child receive a one-time payment of NIS 2,000 ($583), which rises to NIS 2,500 ($729) for those with two children, and NIS 3,000 ($875) for those with three or more. Single Israelis aged 18 and over will receive NIS 750 ($218). It is expected to cost NIS 6 billion ($1.75 billion).
- Among those criticizing it are Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron, top treasury officials, and some of Netanyahu’s coalition partners.
- Prof. Yaron Zelekha, who formerly served as the Finance Ministry’s accountant general when Netanyahu was finance minister, lashes the government over the plan in an interview with Army Radio on Thursday afternoon. “These are a bunch of stupid idiots who should get their hands off the wheel, and the faster the better,” he says.
- The plan comes after fierce protests by self-employed and small business owners over the limited government aid to their ailing businesses, including a mass rally in Tel Aviv last Saturday night. Many of those business owners received less from the government than the NIS 3,000 to be granted to families.
- Opposition leader Yair Lapid says on Twitter he’ll be donating his check and urges other Israelis whose income was not compromised by the crisis to do the same.
2. You can keep the money: Pundits on Thursday also pile on criticism of the plan.
- Yedioth Ahronoth’s daily political cartoon features a firefighter Netanyahu seeking to extinguish a fire with a hose spurting bills.
— ידיעות אחרונות (@YediotAhronot) July 16, 2020
- Writes Sever Plocker in Yedioth: “‘Don’t teach me economics,’ Netanyahu angrily told the critics of his plan, implying ‘I know better than you.’ No, Mr. Prime Minister, you don’t and you don’t want to… To disburse it [the funds] without distinguishing between workers, employees and the self-employed who continue to enjoy the same income as before the pandemic and those whose income has been reduced by a quarter, half or even three-quarters and are facing a financial catastrophe — this is not good economics. This is clearly the populist economics of elections. Giving out the cash is a classic and sure sign that elections are near.”
- In Haaretz, a front-page op-ed by Merav Arlozorov describes the cash as “hush money” to quell growing criticism of the government’s handling of the pandemic. “Netanyahu’s government has lost it, and it’s now giving out money without distinguishing [between recipients] in a clear attempt to relieve the growing civil embitterment.”
- Channel 13’s international correspondent Nadav Eyal tweets that Netanyahu is taking a page out of the Donald Trump playbook by mimicking the US stimulus plan.
- “I have no clue whether Netanyahu’s plan will work, but right now, in various ways, many countries are dropping money from helicopters,” he later tweets, adopting the imagery of choice on Israeli social media to describe the government plan. “It’s no exception. We can assume the treasury will introduce tweaks that will encourage employment. The fact that unemployment benefits will continue gives a measure of security. What is no less important, and is critically missing, is an organized plan on combating the coronavirus. Currently, there is none.”
3. Carrot (stimulus check), meet stick (closure): Unveiling the stimulus plan, Netanyahu urged Israelis to go out and shop with the money, supporting Israeli businesses and giving the economy a kick. But the government on Thursday is also discussing a series of measures that would see another scaleback in economic activity to curb the rising virus rates, and keep more Israelis at home.
- Among the possible measures on the table were forbidding gatherings of 10 people or more and shutting down camps, summer schools, colleges, beaches and houses of worship. Ministers were also set to consider limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery, re-closing pools and gyms, and further limiting public transportation, Channel 12 news reported.
- A full cabinet meeting will be held Thursday night to approve new restrictions and avoid a full-on lockdown, Netanyahu says on Twitter on Thursday afternoon. Under current rules, the cabinet has the power to immediately impose rules, after which the Knesset has a week to decide whether to approve or rescind them.
- Hebrew media on Wednesday reported that ministers are also weighing the possibility of nightly and weekend closures to prevent gatherings.
- Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has warned that Israel could soon see a nationwide lockdown if the infection rates don’t flatten.
- Over 1,900 new cases were reported on Thursday, a new high.
4. Meir takes the wheel: The growing anger at the government has also recently been focused on its failure to appoint a point person on the virus who will handle the government response.
- Channel 12 on Wednesday night reported that Netanyahu offered the position to the former director general of the Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, who oversaw the first virus wave. Bar Siman-Tov declined, the report said.
- The pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom on Thursday reports that National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat is the de facto virus czar.
- “Ben Shabbat is running the show quietly and behind the scenes, and it seems there are policies, there are goals, briefings, instructions, oversight, control, and a lot of thought,” it reports. Netanyahu and Ben Shabbat begin each day with a look at the virus figures and an analysis of the spread, “and this is how the two also end their workday,” it reports.
- Israel Hayom says much of the government policy and decisions is made in a WhatsApp group dubbed the “coronavirus cabinet,” which hosts 172 people, including senior ministers and top bureaucrats. The group is active all day, the report says, calling it “the beating heart of the management of the crisis.”
- Ben Shabbat also holds nightly briefings with a select group of senior military officials, the report says.
5. 99 problems and The Hague is one: Haaretz’s Noa Landau reports that Israel is compiling a list of 200-300 military officials who could be arrested abroad if the International Criminal Court opens a war crimes probe into the Jewish state.
- Israel plans to ask these officials to avoid traveling abroad. The identity of those on the list is not known and some on the roster have not been informed, according to the unsourced report.
- However, it likely includes some of Israel’s top leaders, especially those involved in the 2014 war in Gaza. Among them would be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who was then at the helm of the Israel Defense Forces; then-defense minister and current opposition MK Moshe Ya’alon, and current IDF chief Aviv Kohavi, who was then head of Military Intelligence.
- Former defense ministers Avigdor Liberman and Naftali Bennett, heads of the opposition Yisrael Beytenu and Yamina parties, respectively, may also be on the list, along with former and current heads of the Shin Bet security service and other, lower ranking officers.