As the government faces growing anger over its handling of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, with critics saying decision-making is increasingly confused and erratic, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to be considering major changes to the so-called coronavirus cabinet to streamline debates and decisions.
The full cabinet is comprised of record-high 34 ministers, while the coronavirus forum numbers the 16 of them whose portfolios are supposedly more closely tied to the pandemic and its effects.
But according to a Channel 13 report Friday, Netanyahu feels the 16-member panel is unwieldy, requiring lengthy discussions in that forum before decisions move on to the full cabinet for still further debate and approval.
The report said Netanyahu was considering cutting down the forum’s numbers to make it more efficient, but also implied he may seek to cancel it altogether.
Channel 12, which also reported on plans to limit the forum, said ministers were afraid to speak openly or take unpopular stances during the meetings, that frequently take place on video-calls, with so many present. Transcripts from several meetings have leaked.
As the cabinet considers applying a full lockdown throughout the country on weekends from July 24, meanwhile, Channel 13 also reported that experts advising the Health Ministry have warned ministers that such a measure would be inefficient. If the contagion rates improve in the near future, they reasoned, the measure would be unnecessary, and if they worsen, such action will not be sufficient.
The latest public outrage over the government’s inconsistent decision-making came Friday over the instruction, given in the early morning, to shutter all restaurants starting at 5 p.m. until further notice, with businesses allowed only to serve takeaways and make deliveries, with no in-house seating.
After announcing the decision in the morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backtracked an hour before it was to take effect and said restaurants would be allowed to continue operating as normal until early Tuesday.
His move came as he faced widespread backlash from restaurant owners, many of whom vowed to rebel against the instructions and continue to operate, with businesses saying they would be forced to dump stocks bought for the weekend worth tens of thousands of shekels.
Channels 12 and 13 reported that well-known chef Haim Cohen represented restaurateurs in discussions with Netanyahu as the threat of civil disobedience grew.
Businesses said the closure would cause massive financial losses and food waste and that insufficient time was provided for the affected businesses to prepare themselves for the new restrictions.
The reports said Netanyahu offered financial support to pay for lost stocks and a potential reduction in city property taxes, but that restaurant owners refused, arguing they could not stomach the losses while counting on vague promised future recompense.
In the end Netanyahu, although then announced that restaurants would be allowed to operate until Tuesday morning, some restaurateurs have vowed to disobey closure orders next week as well, saying they can no longer stand the losses they are incurring.
The last-minute about-turn was also met with frustration from many restaurant owners, who said they had let go of staff and destroyed or given away food in preparation for the closure.
“The announcement about opening the restaurants came just in time, about an hour after most of our staff were put on unpaid leave. Not angry at all,” the Halil restaurant in Ramle tweeted.
As Israel sees record-high numbers of new coronavirus infections, cabinet ministers agreed overnight on a series of new lockdown measures.
One group of restaurants that had intended to defy the original closure order issued a statement saying that they were not “subjects of a dictatorship,” complaining that the government could “not make a decision in the middle of the night” and that their “employees are not puppets.”
The Israel Restaurants Association also protested the move.
“Once again we are witnessing the capricious and irresponsible conduct of a government that has lost its way. We cannot be expected to close our businesses with a few hours’ notice,” it said in a statement.
Leaders of the restaurant, cafe and bar industry called on the public to eat out, stating that “is our duty to fight for our business even if we become criminals,” reported public broadcaster Kan.
Several restaurants had announced they would at least stay open Friday night, to avoid wasting some of their food. “We bought produce worth thousands of shekels and we have no intention of throwing it away. We don’t think it’s right to throw it in the trash. We see no logic in allowing beaches to stay open and us not, and certainly not [through] a ridiculous decision that comes via the TV in the middle of the night,” Assaf Liss, who owns a number of Tel Aviv dining spots, told Walla news.
Earlier this month, the Health Ministry released a document ranking daily activities in terms of their danger of exposure to the coronavirus which listed dining at indoor bars and restaurants as a high-risk activity.
“We are going through a difficult time, it is impossible, the decisions are arbitrary, we are stuck with a lot of goods,” one restaurateur in Tel Aviv told the news website, calling the move to close restaurants “arbitrary” and populist.
“My workers and I are being crushed and I feel like going like a sheep to the slaughter. Whoever runs our country has to go to a hearing because he runs it badly,” Moshiko Gamliel, owner of Tel Aviv’s Bar 51, told the site.
He said it seemed the decision to close the restaurants was made without due consideration and that “the state is spitting in our faces. We are afraid of fines but also afraid of going bankrupt.”
The owner of one cafe in Tel Aviv told Kan that he planned on giving away food he had already ordered and that he did not plan on opening at all on Sunday because switching over to delivery and takeout only was unprofitable.
“What is left goes in the trash,” he said.
A senior police source told Walla that unclear and frequently changing rules had caused significant public confusion and that enforcement of the new directives would be undertaken with sensitivity, with only the most flagrant violations, in which larger than usual crowds have gathered and refuse to heed warnings, will result in enforcement.