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Tea-sipping Liberman appears impassive in face of sobbing worker

Woman repeatedly heckled by deputy finance minister as she tries to testify on plight of independent teachers; finance minister later vows ‘not to leave anyone behind’

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman sips tea, during testimony at the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee on February 15, 2022. (Screen capture/Knesset TV)
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman sips tea, during testimony at the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee on February 15, 2022. (Screen capture/Knesset TV)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman seemed to impassively sip tea as a woman sobbed in front of him during a debate on the plight of self-employed workers and business owners impacted by the Omicron coronavirus variant at the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

Zameret Avivi, who represents a group of self-employed teachers and was at the meeting to testify about their plight, was driven to angry tears by Deputy Finance Minister Abir Kara, who told her she doesn’t “represent anybody” when she introduced herself and repeatedly heckled her and tried to shut her up.

Avivi accused Kara, who ironically entered politics as the head of a protest movement representing self-employed business owners and self-employed Israelis, of “thuggery against a woman,” and claimed he was blocking them from attending meetings with the Finance Ministry and “settling scores at the expense of the independent [workforce].”

Asked if she wanted to halt her testimony until she could compose herself, she refused, turning to Liberman and saying, “I want the finance minister to know that he (Kara) is deliberately not letting us speak or attend meetings.”

As she turned to Liberman, the cameras focused on the finance minister, who was impassively sipping from his tea cup, apparently unmoved by her plight.

At that stage, Kara, who continued to interrupt her, was ejected from the meeting. It was not immediately clear why Kara was so hostile to Avivi.

Zameret Avivi cries as she testifies at the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee on February 15, 2022 (Screencapture/Knesset TV)

Avivi then pleaded with Liberman for assistance, noting that self-employed teachers, who were not part of unions, had been out of work for months when schools were closed due to the coronavirus.

“Up until June 2021, people were able to breathe because we received grants from the [finance] ministry and the previous government,” she said, referring to Liberman’s decision last year to halt all grants to business owners and self-employed workers impacted by COVID.

“We were promised a government of change — but where is the change?” she cried.

“Who has the power?” she asked while pointing to Liberman. “It’s you, you control the money, our money. We’ve paid taxes our entire lives. Now we need to beg as if we were poor?”

She added: “You create anxiety among the independent workforce with your statements… We have no financial security. Why are you being so cruel?… Open your heart.”

Liberman later vowed to “not leave anyone behind,” but said there was only so much the government could do.

“Anyone who needs help will get it,” he declared. “This government’s achievement is growing the pie. We have reached a completely different situation by leading comprehensive change, compared to the previous government.”

“We can’t change all injustices that have happened between 1948 and today in eight months,” he said, touting socioeconomic achievements led by the government.

He said the Finance Ministry will be presenting a plan to provide self-employed workers in Israel with a financial safety net to be implemented within a few weeks.

But despite his promises, the incident added to Liberman’s woes as data released by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday indicated yet another rise in consumer goods and housing prices in Israel in the past 12 months.

A view of new high-rise apartment buildings next to older small homes, in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, on September 2, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

According to the data, the consumer price index, which measures the price of an average market basket of consumer goods, has risen by 0.2% in January and by 3.1 in the past year.

Housing prices marked a more dramatic increase — 11.3% in 12 months.

In an attempt to curb the price hikes, which have made economic difficulties brought on by the pandemic ever more obvious, the government has presented a plan aimed at tackling the rising cost of living. The plan’s outline, however, has been criticized for only benefiting a few, while ignoring the struggling middle class and certain communities entirely.

The leader of the opposition Haredi party Shas, Aryeh Deri, has called the plan a “charade meant to decrease public pressure,” arguing it “includes confusing steps meant to benefit ‘good families’ only — a codename for the continued discrimination and intentional harm to periphery communities.”

Blue and White coalition party MK Michael Biton, chairman of the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee,  said last week the plan did not cover small businesses or self-employed workers who suffered heavy financial losses during the COVID pandemic.

“You can’t help only salaried employees and not them,” he said.

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