Event hall owners threaten to reopen next week in defiance of government
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Event hall owners threaten to reopen next week in defiance of government

In letter to Netanyahu hours before vote on aid package, association denounces plan as inadequate, says it would cause industry ‘extinction’

Owners of event venues in Israel protest outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem with a black marriage canopy on July 26, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Owners of event venues in Israel protest outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem with a black marriage canopy on July 26, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A union representing event hall owners threatened on Tuesday to reopen for business next week in defiance of government orders, accusing the government of “abusing” them for failing to provide adequate compensate for roughly five months of closure aimed at stemming the coronavirus outbreak.

A similar threat by restaurant owners earlier this month to stay open caused the government to delay their closure, and the Knesset has since then kept them open under restrictions.

The angry letter by the event hall association was sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hours before the Knesset’s Finance Committee votes on a financial aid package slammed by the owners as a death sentence for the industry.

Coalition whip Miki Zohar on Monday warned that the aid package offers the same amount of compensation for big event halls and small ones, saying that wasn’t a good approach.

Tables at an event hall set out for a wedding. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

“You have abused us and young couples [who have booked the halls for weddings] enough, we are done staying silent,” the association said in a statement.

“In light of the negligence of the government, which is causing the extinction of the event hall industry… we understand that if you don’t intervene immediately, only we will be able to help ourselves,” the letter to Netanyahu said.

“The event hall industry will be forced to resume work from Tu B’Av,” the letter said, referring to the Jewish calendar’s equivalent of Valentine’s Day which is marked this year on August 5.

“Event halls won’t be able to survive with the current compensation outline, which doesn’t cover our permanent, unavoidable expenses that have continued since the coronavirus outbreak began,” it continued.

“It is absurd to delude the young couples that the proposed plan will enable us to return them their money, and it hurts us because they are our customers who trusted us.

“We have several hours before the government and the Knesset seal our fate and destroy Israel’s event industry,” it concluded. “We depend on you, Mr. prime minister, and need your immediate help.”

A couple celebrates their wedding at a public park in Efrat, March 15, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Israel’s coronavirus cases stood at 64,530 as of Monday night at midnight, according to a report by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center published Tuesday.

There were 1,999 new cases throughout Monday, the report said, adding that 25,231 coronavirus test results came back Monday, 7.9 percent of which were positive.

The number of active cases dropped by several thousand to 31,833, due to new criteria taking effect that shorten quarantine periods for confirmed carriers and regards them as recovered after 10 days and at least three days without symptoms.

As a result, recoveries jumped by more than 5,000, to 32,223.

The number of serious patients was up to 315, while deaths remained at 474.

Lawmakers indicated Monday that they would move to ensure public access to cultural events, including in some indoor venues, in the near future, seemingly setting up another brawl between the government and a Knesset committee that has already overturned several government closure orders.

MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, the head of the Knesset Coronavirus Committee, who has recently butted heads with Netanyahu by overruling several cabinet-imposed restrictions, said she would make sure large theaters and smaller venues could reopen before the end of the summer.

“We’re here to find the best way to open up the culture industry. We’ll talk about ‘how’ rather than about ‘if,'” she said.

Culture events, venues, bars and nightclubs are currently closed until further notice. All gatherings capped at 10 people indoors and 20 people outdoors.

The comments came during a meeting at which venue managers, performers and others complained about being shut down. Heads of cultural institutions warned that without a plan to enable performances to take place, they may collapse and never reopen.

MK Yifat Shasha-Biton at a Knesset Coronavirus Committee meeting on July 19, 2020. (screen capture: Knesset livestream)

The deputy director of the Health Ministry, Itamar Grotto, who also participated in the meeting, said there was a trend of “relative stability in the infection rates” in recent days, which could pose “an opportunity for change.”

“The Health Ministry is trying to see how we can help these places,” he said, noting that his ministry was in the process of preparing a “single comprehensive package that will be more clear to the public.”

He said those recommendations, which would include allowing cultural events, would be ready by Tuesday evening.

The culture industry has been hit particularly hard by government regulations meant to stem the virus’s spread, with events heavily restricted since the outbreak began. Many of those who work in the industry are self-employed and have less access to social benefits than salaried employees.

Earlier this month, amid a spike in infections, the cabinet passed a raft of restrictions to curb 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.

People protesting against the government’s decision to close the gyms following the spread of the Coronavirus outside the home of Minister of Health Yuli Edelstein in Herzliya, on July 22, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

However, Shasha-Biton’s Coronavirus Committee later overturned some of those restrictions, most recently on Thursday, when it allowed gyms across Israel to reopen Sunday, drawing the ire of her fellow party members, who are now seeking to neuter her committee with a law set to come into effect on August 10.

There has been widespread anger from various sectors of the economy that 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.

That anger has spawned a protest movement that is one of the most dominant voices in the recent demonstrations outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem.

On Friday The New York Times ranked Israel sixth in the world in new daily cases per 1 million people, with a little under 200 a day at that ratio. The US was just above it at a little over 200 per million, followed by South Africa, Panama, Bahrain and Oman, which led the pack with some 300 cases a day per million residents.

Experts have blamed a too-speedy reopening and the lack of an effective contact tracing program as main factors in the virus resurgence, which has come as new daily virus cases around the world have also reached record highs.

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