The government on Friday approved an NIS 8 billion ($2.27 billion) plan to increase support for self-employed Israelis and small business owners who have been hit hard by the coronavirus, following accusations that Israel wasn’t helping businesses forced to shut down.
The plan includes a grant of up to NIS 400,000 per business or non-profit, depending on the degree to which its activities have been curtailed, the Finance Ministry said in a statement. The grants will be paid directly by the Tax Authority starting in May, the statement said, without giving details on how eligibility will be determined.
The plan also includes a second stipend for self-employed workers, equaling 70 percent of their regular income up to a maximum amount of NIS 10,500.
The government also approved a special stipend for people aged 67 or more who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, the Finance Ministry said in a separate statement.
The stipend, to be handed out in May, will total up to NIS 4,000 ($1,140).
As of Thursday, unemployment in Israel had risen to 27.05 percent, or 1,125,814 people, including almost a million who had lost their job following the pandemic.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, unemployment in Israel was at a record low of under 4%.
Yaron Zelekha, the former accountant general at the Finance Ministry, last week castigated the treasury for failing to support battered small businesses. Noting that the government had authorized a one-time NIS 10,000 payment (some $2,850) last month to ailing firms, he told Army Radio that this should be a monthly payment through at least July or August.
Hundreds of self-employed Israelis have staged several demonstrations outside the Knesset and in other locations throughout the country, decrying the lack of support from the government in their hour of need.
Some protesters focused their outrage on Netanyahu, with one distraught interviewee saying on Channel 12 news: “We voted for you. You were chosen as one who knows how to manage wars. In the coronavirus war you’ve failed! …You need to get up and get out!”
But nobody has symbolized the virus’ economic toll more than Yuval Carmi, a falafel store owner in southern Israel whose tearful account brought a Channel 13 television crew this week to tears.
“Look at my wallet, it’s empty,” the Ashdod man said in the Sunday report, pulling out his wallet. “I don’t have a shekel in my pocket… I’m embarrassed to face my children, to tell them I have nothing I can buy for you. I have nothing to give them. I have nothing to give them to eat. I don’t know what to do,” he said, crying and then apologizing for his tears.
“I saw you yesterday [on TV] and you touched my heart,” Netanyahu told Carmi in a phone call on Monday. “And I’ll help you. We’re going to help everyone. You have reached deep into my heart and the hearts of Israeli citizens.”
In a video of Netanyahu taken during the phone call and distributed by his office, Carmi can be heard thanking the premier and refraining from directly placing the blame on him.
“I am not making my claims against you but against your advisers,” he said. “Apparently they are not telling you what’s going on with the people.”