Opposition leaders slam reimposition of lockdown, say government failed

Bennett warns 3-week closure over Jewish holidays will deal economic ‘hammer blow’ to many Israelis; deputy head of restaurant group says may keep some eateries open in protest

Stacked chairs outside a restaurant on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on July 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Stacked chairs outside a restaurant on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on July 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leaders ripped the cabinet’s approval on Sunday of a three-week lockdown over the Jewish holidays, warning of significant economic fallout and blaming the government’s management of the coronavirus pandemic for the renewed closure.

MK Naftali Bennett, whose national-religious Yamina party has surged in the polls amid his criticism of the government’s handling of the virus, said the new measures were a “hammer blow” to small businesses, the self-employed and those out of work.

“This is the result of a managerial and leadership failure the likes of which Israel hasn’t known since its founding,” he said in a video statement.

He also urged ministers to put out a plan for lifting the lockdown.

“I call on the prime minister to stop with the quarrels. There’s nothing important besides getting control of the coronavirus, rehabilitating the economy and uniting the nation,” Bennett said.

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett speaks during a Knesset plenary session in Jerusalem on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid called for Netanyahu to apologize to Israelis and admit his failure to manage the virus.

“That was the bare minimum he needed to do this evening. Whoever can’t admit a failure also can’t fix [one]. You failed, resign,” Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party, wrote on Twitter.

Yesh Atid-Telem MK Moshe Ya’alon also directed his fire at Netanyahu, accusing him of acting out of political considerations due to his indictment on corruption charges.

“Netanyahu, who only looks out for himself, is personally responsible for the chaos and the failure. [He’s] playing irresponsibly with the physical and mental health of Israeli citizens and maneuvering politically to survive,” Ya’alon tweeted.

Ya’alon appeared to be referring to Netanyahu’s decision last week to soften restrictions in localities with the highest infection rates following fierce opposition from ultra-Orthodox mayors.

“The defendant Netanyahu abandoned the State of Israel and its citizens for over a decade… and we’re paying the price,” added Ya’alon, who was a minister in the premier’s Likud party from 2009 to 2016.

Israeli police seen at the entrance to the neighborhood of Ramot in Jerusalem, as Israel enforces a night curfew. September 13, 2020.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to Hebrew media reports, the Finance Ministry projected the lockdown will result in a NIS 6.5 billion ($1.8 billion) loss to the economy. The previous lockdown in March and April plunged Israel into a recession.

“We don’t know how to tell the workers for a second time that we’re putting them on furlough, almost everyone,” Ram Shoham, deputy general-manager of the Kampai restaurant group, told the Kan public broadcasters.

He added: “If we don’t get clear answers on everything concerning compensation, we’ll keep some of the restaurants open as a protest of the government’s performance in managing the crisis.”

His comments echoed those of other businesses that have vowed in recent days to defy closure orders, saying they will not survive a new shutdown. Top business leaders warned Netanyahu on Friday that a new lockdown would be disastrous to the economy.

The proposal is highly controversial among the public, with many business leaders threatening to defy it. Hotels are furious at having to cancel reservations for the High Holidays just days in advance, having hired additional staff and purchased quantities of supplies and food.

There are also complaints that the lockdown unjustifiably closes down the entire country rather than focusing on COVID-19 red zones, and allegations that it is politically impacted, with the government reluctant to be seen as singling out ultra-Orthodox areas, which, along with Arab areas, have some of Israel’s highest contagion rates.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews keep social distancing and wearing face masks during prayer next to their houses as synagogues are limited to 20 people following the government’s measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, in Bnei Brak, September 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

During a press conference to announce the lockdown, which will take effect Friday afternoon, Netanyahu acknowledged the economic ramifications of the move but defended it as a necessary to curb the spread of the virus. He also strongly pushed back against reporters who asked if he had failed to manage the pandemic.

“You say it’s a failure,” he said testily, repeating that “I just showed how we shut down early… reopened the economy early… and the fact is that there are achievements.”

Netanyahu blamed politics and “populism” for some of the difficulties in reducing the contagion, but rejected the notion that he had capitulated to his political allies.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces a new coronavirus lockdown, on September 13, 2020. (Yoav Dudkevitch / POOL / AFP)

Asked what the lockdown was buying time for, and again whether the government has failed, he said, “No, really not. We didn’t fail.”

The decision to reimpose a lockdown came as Israel has seen record numbers of new infections and COVID-19 deaths in recent weeks.

According to the latest Health Ministry figures, 1,119 Israelis have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, with a record 519 people in serious condition and 202 in moderate condition.

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