Dozens of merchants and business owners protested in Tel Aviv on Thursday, some of them setting their merchandise and tires on fire, demanding that the government ease restrictions and allow them to reopen after weeks of lockdown to curb coronavirus infection.
Many of the protesters own garment-related businesses. They blocked roads in the city's south as the coronavirus cabinet convened to debate whether to permit a reopening of shops next week.
Danny Elharar said, “It's Bibi's fault. He let's the merchants suffer, he doesn't dare hurt anyone else. He's a pawn of the tycoons at Azrieli, Weizel and Ofer,” referring to the main owners of Israeli mall chains, competitors of the smaller businesses. “He doesn’t care about his voters, it’s all about him.”
Elharar told Haaretz that “it’s because of Bibi that everyone is buying their clothing at Max Stock,” a cheap home goods store that has remained open as an essential business selling emergency supplies during the lockdown. “The same way he’s reopening beauty parlors and small business, shops should also be allowed to reopen,” he said. “It makes no sense for us to wait because of the malls.”
Merchant Shimon Sayag, a wholesaler of accessories to fashion designers, said “the stores on the streets are closing, they’re collapsing and going out of business and our checks all bounce. It’s a ridiculous situation that hurts the entire economy from production lines to suppliers. If it goes on this way, within a month nobody will be left in business. Bibi and [Health Minister Yuli] Edelstein are playing games.”
Another merchant, Ilan Shoshan, said: “I’m an importer. For 58 days I haven’t brought home a single shekel. The children ask for money and I have none to give them. I return home empty handed and don’t know how far this will go. If the store doesn’t open by Sunday everything I’ve built will be destroyed.”
Earlier, Finance Minister Yisrael Katz said, “We must open the storefronts immediately, they’re on the verge of collapse. What’s the point of this mad policy? The Health Ministry has severed itself from the people and acting coldly. People have built businesses with their own hands and are being left with nothing.”
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Edelstein said during the debate, “I also want to resume normal living but it isn’t possible yet. The cabinet must not give in to neglectful health habits. During this period you need courage to say no, and we won’t give up on lifting restrictions gradually.”