Police said Saturday hundreds of officers were deploying in Tel Aviv for the evening’s demonstration against the government’s economic policies amid the coronavirus crisis.
Tens of thousands of protesters are expected to attend the rally. Organizers have said it will be “apolitical,” with no party politicians scheduled to address the crowd.
Police and organizers said they expected participants to wear masks and adhere to social distancing measures.
“We are aware of the protesters’ desire to make their cries and their pain heard, and therefore, in order to allow the right to protest, we call on participants to strictly observe social distancing and wear masks,” police said.
A number of streets around Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square were closing from 5 p.m.
People of varied economic backgrounds and sectors are expected at the demonstration, including owners of hard-hit small businesses, freelancers and independent workers, members of the entertainment industry and of the restaurant and hospitality sector, as well as university students.
Channel 12 news reported Saturday that the committee representing workers in the cultural and events industries had changed its position and decided to join the protest, having initially said it would not.
Unemployment in Israel is at some 21 percent — or 850,000 people — and is rising, as restrictions imposed amid record daily coronavirus infections further batter the economy. Unemployment at the height of the pandemic reached over 25 percent, with over a million Israelis out of work.
As Israel contends with the alarming surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a tide of criticism over the government’s handling of the economic fallout of the pandemic, with polls indicating growing disapproval of his stewardship of the economy.
There has been widespread anger from various sectors of the economy whose members 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.
On Friday, representatives for self-employed Israelis and small business owners hurt by the pandemic met with Netanyahu to discuss their grievances.
Netanyahu’s office described the three-hour meeting as “positive,” while a lawyer with the business owners called it “charged” and said the rally would go ahead as planned.
Netanyahu told the representatives the government would keep its promises on immediate financial aid packages for independents and small businesses.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Israel Katz said businesses’ pain and concern were understandable and promised to swiftly move forward with legislation to allow economic support to be deployed.
Attorney Roee Cohen, president of Lahav, the Israel Chamber of Independent Organizations and Businesses, told the Ynet news site that the Friday meeting was “charged” and that he and other representatives had raised many issues with the economic support plans — those set to be implemented and those provided thus far.
Netanyahu said Thursday that the government had ordered the acceleration of previous payouts, which many have said didn’t arrive.
The premier said a new stipend for self-employed Israelis would be paid out immediately, as early as next week, “without any conditions or bureaucracy, even without Knesset legislation.” He said there had been significant bureaucratic difficulties in approving those payments.
Other parts of the aid package included a “safety net” for salaried employees and for businesses, as well as expanding the eligibility for unemployment benefits.
Small businesses will receive up to NIS 6,000 once every two months, he announced. Big businesses will receive aid totaling up to NIS 500,000, depending on how much the business was harmed due to the crisis.
The last few weeks have seen the reversal of many of the gains made in the fight against the coronavirus in recent months. New daily virus cases, which had dropped to low double digits through most of May, have soared to over a thousand a day, and the number of active cases has reached an all-time high.
The country had been placed on a nationwide lockdown for about two months at the start of the outbreak in March, but most of the restrictions were lifted by May to reopen the economy.
The current increase in weekly infections in Israel is one of the highest in the world, according to a chart published Monday afternoon by the Health Ministry.
The government this week passed a raft of new restrictions to limit 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.