Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s economic adviser and the head of a leading fashion chain got into a heated shouting matching on television Monday over economic assistance to Israeli firms hurt by the coronavirus outbreak and the government’s plans to ease restrictions on businesses.
Avi Simhon, who heads the National Economic Council, told Channel 12 news that the loosening of restrictions would be gradual and declined to give a specific timeline when this would take place, saying there was no reason to draw up extensive plans in advance as circumstances quickly change.
“If we see the public is disciplined and there is a drop in the number of infections, we can maybe start with some sort of very, very gradual opening [of the economy],” he said.
Clothing company Fox Group’s CEO Harel Wiesel, who was sitting next to Simhon in the TV studio, responded that the government should set target infection rates for certain dates, and that if those are met, businesses can begin reopening.
After the two tangled over what the number of new cases a day would need to be before restrictions could be eased, Wiesel confronted Simhon about a fund set up by the government to help small businesses survive the crisis.
“The problem with you is that you’re at the end of the line because you’re very, very rich, very, very successful,” Simhon quipped at him.
As the argument grew more heated, Wiesel repeatedly interrupted Simhon, and began to lean in closer toward him.
With the two yelling at each other, Simhon suddenly turned his face away. “I really hope you don’t have the coronavirus because you just spit on me,” Simhon told him.
Wiesel offered a brief apology before they continued the argument, with the Fox executive continuing to take exception to being called rich.
“It’s not a pejorative,” Simhon insisted.
Pressed by Wiesel, Simhon said the new government fund has so far given out less than NIS 1 billion in assistance to small businesses.
“What are you waiting for, for everyone to go hungry and die?” Wiesel shouted, offering to set up a fund of his own instead.
Simhon said the fund was only created a few weeks ago and much more of the money would go out in the next two-to-three weeks, calling it a process.