'They're closing us on a whim, without data, without logic'

Restaurateurs again threaten to defy government, ahead of Tuesday closure order

Some eateries vow to remain open, as Netanyahu set to meet with representatives over compensation demands; similar rebellion on Friday led to last-minute delay of closure

Illustrative: Mask-clad Israeli restaurant owners and others protest against lockdown measures in Tel Aviv on July 17, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Illustrative: Mask-clad Israeli restaurant owners and others protest against lockdown measures in Tel Aviv on July 17, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Some restaurant owners threatened Sunday to keep their businesses open on Tuesday and beyond, despite government orders to shut down to limit coronavirus infections, after a similar rebellion on Friday forced a last-minute backtrack by authorities.

The initial closure order was announced early Friday morning and was to take effect at 5 p.m. that day. But many restaurants vowed to stay open, panning the short notice they were given, after already having spent large sums to stock up for the weekend. The pressure led Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push off the planned closure from Friday to Tuesday morning.

The restaurateurs again threatening to defy government orders include prominent chefs and owners of well-known eateries in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

“Until they communicate the reasons for the closure, until they present data and give us a horizon for compensation, I am not closing,” chef Asaf Doktor, who owns three Tel Aviv restaurants, told Channel 12.

Restaurant and bar owners were planning to hold a “protest” meal for the needy outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

“We are going to Jerusalem because we understood the government isn’t caring for us,” Doktor said. “They’re closing us on a whim, without data backing it up, without logic. We are alone.

“So we will go to Jerusalem to hand out food to the needy, because soon we will be needy too. Solidarity will save us from collapsing.”

Chairs outside a fast food restaurant on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on July 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Representatives from the sector were to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office late Sunday, according to various reports.

Some restaurateurs are said to be demanding that the government agree to compensate them in advance, in exchange for compliance with the law. They have reportedly made various proposals such as reducing property taxes and other levies, payments to quarantined workers and more.

“The decision to close restaurants is ridiculous and illogical. There is no scientific study that shows high infection rates in restaurants, but the opposite,” another rebel owner told the Ynet news site, preferring to remain anonymous.

Tomer Mor, who heads the group behind the protest, said that “restaurateurs from all over the country are helpless and see their businesses closed while they have to provide for their families. There is great frustration driving people to action to save their livelihoods.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

On Friday, facing widespread threats to defy government orders, Netanyahu at the last minute backtracked on a decision to shut down all eateries, with the exception of deliveries and takeaways, from 5 p.m. that day, delaying the implementation of the open-ended ban until Tuesday morning, his office said.

The government order had only been approved Thursday night and was met with significant resistance among restaurateurs, who complained that the move, which they called “illegal,” 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.

Many had threatened to remain open in acts of civil disobedience.

The last-minute about-turn had also been met with frustration from many restaurant owners, who said they had let go of staff and destroyed food in preparation for the closure.

The Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee was on Sunday given data on 1,474 cases of contagion traced by the Health Ministry; only 10 of them originated in restaurants.

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.

Israelis smoke water pipes at a bar in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market on July 7. 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to ministry figures released last week, 21 people have become infected in restaurants and six in bars during the second wave, the Walla news site reported Friday.

On Friday morning, Hagai Levine, head of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, criticized the government for ordering restrictions “without any epidemiological basis” and making the decision to close beaches starting next week, noting the virus was likely to spread in closed areas rather than in open ones.

“National security is also mental and economic health,” Levine, an epidemiologist with the Hadassah School of Public Health, told the Kan public broadcaster. “A lockdown in homes can achieve the opposite goal and increase infections.”

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