Protest convoy by event producers clogs highway into capital
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Protest convoy by event producers clogs highway into capital

Reaching Jerusalem, demonstrators block access to Finance Ministry to demand greater government support as venues remain shuttered during coronavirus outbreak

Protesters representing event organizers and show production teams brought traffic to a crawl on the main artery leading to the capital Wednesday morning as they demonstrated against what they say is a failure by the government to provide them with financial support during the coronavirus outbreak.

While most industries have been able to get back to work, large events are still banned, leaving theaters, concert halls and other venues shuttered and putting artists, organizers and support staff out of work.

Some 60 trucks from companies providing sound and lighting services for events formed a convoy on Route 1 at the Sha’ar Hagai junction and drove slowly to Jerusalem for a demonstration outside the Prime Minister’s Office and the adjacent Finance Ministry.

Police said that although there was heavy congestion the road was not completely closed.

At the Finance Ministry, around 200 protesters blocked access to the building using hospital beds and ventilation machines as props under the slogan “ventilator or war,” Channel 12 news reported.

Two people were arrested at the demonstration for “causing a public disturbance and attacking a police officer,” police said in a statement.

Organizers said the protest was over the “neglect of the industry, which has collapsed in recent months, by a country that continues to ignore the dire circumstances of 200,000 employees of the industry.”

One of those behind the protest, event organizer Rami Beja, told the Kan public broadcaster he has not been able to use any of his equipment for four months.

“I have no way of doing any event,” he said. “An entire industry has no income.”

“When we can’t open our businesses due to a tragedy of one kind or another, that is the moment for the government to channel money in order to keep us alive,” Beja said. “We are asking for basic survival.”

Screen capture from video of protesters on behalf of the cultural and events industry demonstrating in Jerusalem as they demand support from the government amid the coronavirus outbreak, June 10, 2020. (Channel 12 news)

The protest is part of a “week of rage” by cultural and events organizers who are demanding that the government budget financial help for them, as it has for other sectors of the economy that were impacted by lockdown restrictions imposed in mid-March and only gradually lifted in the past few weeks.

Artists have also been among the hardest hit by lockdown regulations, which at one point pushed Israel’s unemployment rate above 27 percent.

With concerts, plays and other events still banned, calls have grown for more government aid for musicians, performers and others.

The government has budgeted NIS 100 billion ($28.5 billion) for a rescue package to restart the economy, which was brought to an almost total standstill by the lockdown.

Since Sunday some 100 demonstrators have maintained a protest tent in the government quarter of the capital to push their demands on behalf of those working in the cultural and events industries.

On Monday the government decided to further delay the reopening of cultural and event venues amid a spike in virus cases as other elements of the lockdown were removed. Activities in theaters, music performances and other cultural venues had been set to resume on June 14. It has now been delayed to June 21 at the earliest, though the date has not been finalized.

In addition, a restarting of full train services was also delayed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the government was applying the brakes on further easing coronavirus restrictions, amid a sustained increase in the number of cases in the country.

Netanyahu said at a gathering of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, composed of relevant ministers tasked with combating the outbreak, that experts “showed us that there has been a very steep increase in morbidity. It could be that we are already seeing the doubling of the rate of infection within ten days. I very much hope not.”

After a sustained drop in the daily infection rate, Israel has seen a jump in new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, with health officials attributing much of the rise to schools, which were reopened last month.

As of Wednesday morning Israel has had 18,269 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, with 299 fatalities.

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