Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday was berated by business owners angered by what they said was a lack of financial assistance from the government, as their businesses struggle amid the restrictions put in place to contain the coronavirus.
In an unprecedented Zoom meeting he initiated, Netanyahu was confronted by the owners of restaurants, bars, event halls and gyms over the limitations on their businesses and delays in the transfer of aid they were promised.
“We won’t survive! No businesses will remain, sir! We’re asking that you tell us, like you said at the start of the campaign, that within 48 hours the money will be with us,” one of the business owners pleaded, in footage of the call broadcast by Channel 12.
Another participant warned her business would go under if she didn’t receive financial assistance within days.
“We’re collapsing, simply collapsing. I haven’t slept in four months,” she said. “I employ 150 workers; I don’t know what to say to them.”
After listening for several minutes, Netanyahu pinned blame for the holdups in transferring assistance on Tax Authority head Eran Yaacov, who also took part in the call.
“Eran, listen to me for a second. These people aren’t lying, okay?” Netanyahu said. “When they say they aren’t receiving [the money], they aren’t receiving [it].”
He continued: “We must give them security on income, livelihood, on the assistance we give to them… It turns out that we’re not transferring them the money.”
As he spoke, Netanyahu was interrupted by one of the participants on the call.
“[No one] listens to us… we didn’t get the money. Enough, listen to us for once,” the unidentified business owner urged.
The video meeting came as Netanyahu faces growing criticism over the government’s handling of the economic fallout of the pandemic, with polls indicating growing disapproval of his stewardship of the economy.
Unemployment at its height reached over 25 percent, with over a million Israelis out of work; now, over 800,000 are still unemployed, with that figure expected to climb in light of renewed restrictions put in place to combat the surge in new infections.
There has been widespread anger from innumerable sectors of the economy that say the government is not doing enough to help them weather the difficult times, accompanied by outrage over the alleged misdirection of financial aid and the bureaucratic complexities of obtaining assistance.
Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu met with Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron, former governor Stanley Fisher and other economists for consultations.
Notably absent from the talks was Finance Minister Israel Katz, who said Tuesday he was drawing up an aid package for Israeli workers and businesses hurt by the tightening restrictions on economic activity.
As part of a series of measures approved by the government Monday to halt the ongoing surge in new infections, the Finance Ministry was given 48 hours to draft a compensation package for those hurt by the latest regulations, which included the closure of many entertainment venues and limiting the number of patrons at restaurants.
In light of the new restrictions, Katz said he was working on a “comprehensive aid package for wage workers, self-employed and business owners” that he would present to Netanyahu later Tuesday.
Katz said the plan was “based on the principle of mutual guarantee” and would provide improved unemployed benefits for unemployed workers over the next year, as well as “a permanent monthly living stipend” for the self-employed.
“Additionally, aid will be given to businesses themselves in accordance with the size of the business and the extent of the harm,” he wrote on Facebook.
Katz, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party who became finance minister in May, added that the plan would incorporate “lessons from the previous plans, which were decided on before my time, in order to ensure the quick the implementation of the decisions.”
Also Tuesday, Likud MK Nir Barkat presented his own proposal for assisting the economy.
Barkat, who was promised the Finance Ministry by Netanyahu before the March 2 elections but was passed over for Katz, said the prime minister asked him to formulate the plan.