Police Arrest 20 After Thousands Protest Poor Government Aid Amid Coronavirus Economic Crisis

Self-employed from hospitality, tourism and arts industries stage protest in Tel Aviv ■ Three officers lightly injured

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Ten thousand Israelis gathered at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to protest government mismanagement of economic crisis caused by the coronavirus, July 11, 2020
Ten thousand Israelis gathered at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to protest government mismanagement of economic crisis caused by the coronavirus, July 11, 2020Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Over 10 thousand Israelis protested in Tel Aviv on Saturday against the government's handling of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

After hundreds left the square after the event, they marched through the city's main streets, blocking roads and junctions and chanting "Bibi go home!" Police arrested 20 after clashes erupted between law enforcement and protesters. Of those, 16 have been questioned and two will have court hearings regarding extending their detention.

Police said that three officers were lightly injured as protesters attacked police, threw tear gas and bottles at them and vandalized public property on Rothschild Boulevard. "Police are constantly avoiding the use of force and are working to clear traffic jams to allow traffic flow," a police statement said. 

On Sunday morning, Finance Minister Yisrael Katz said in an interview on Kan television network that "Demonstrations are part of democracy, I understand the allegations and the pain of the demonstrators. Our plan is to provide an economic safety net for employees and the self-employed for the coming year. We will leave no one on on the streets."

On Friday, leaders from hospitality, tourism, transportation, arts and culture industries declined an invitation by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the situation.

Protesters in Tel Aviv, July 11, 2020.
Protesters in Tel Aviv, July 11, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

"The Israeli government and its leader are responsible for the failure in implementing aid programs," said the organizers, who called on the government to amend its financial aid packages.

On Thursday, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz announced that self-employed individuals will receive an immediate 7,500 shekels ($2,150) stipend. They promised that money would be transferred to accounts by next week, following criticism that the two previous rounds of coronavirus aid were delayed and insufficient.

Iliya Zsibulsky, a 32-year-old actor, said he's been unemployed since theatres were shut in March. Holding a mask of a pig’s face, he explained that it represents the government “of pigs and too many ministers who don’t see us. They’re detached from reality.”

A protester faces off a policeman on a horse at the Tel Aviv anti-government protest, July 11, 2020.
A protester faces off a policeman on a horse at the Tel Aviv anti-government protest, July 11, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

“I received a meager and ridiculous sum from the government and I also have to pay taxes for it,” said Zsibulsky, who went back to living with his parents and is working in deliveries after years of living alone and earning a decent income as an actor.  

Boaz Meirchik, owner of the Duplex nightclub in Tel Aviv, told Haaretz that implementing health regulations made his business no longer profitable and that he is uncertain about its future. "The whole economy is going to collapse if the government doesn’t act. There will be a period of austerity after the coronavirus. Netanyahu’s plan is not enough,” he said.

“I’m retired and unemployed but the state doesn’t recognize or compensate me,” said Ruti Sofer, 74, from Jaffa, who had been working as a caretaker before the pandemic. “I received 4,000 shekels ($1150) in two payments and that’s it, they told me I’m not illegible for more. This is the first time in my life that I have to ask for money from my six children in order to pay for food and bills,” said Sofer, adding that Netanyahu should “Climb down and remember that whoever put him there can also take him down.”

Hours before the protest, organizers announced that various politicians had asked to join and give speeches at the event but were asked not to attend as they had "Had enough time to work for us." Organizers said they wished for the protest to not be affiliated with any political factions.  

Organizers agreed to a number of conditions for the police to allow the protest to go ahead, some related to the coronavirus, in anticipation of a large number of attendees. Groups of 20 people are required to stand two meters apart from one another,  while each group is required to maintain a distance of ten meters from other groups. 

In a statement distributed among protest groups, organizers asked that those attending the protest not give the police a reason to stop the event, urging them to comply with Health Ministry guidelines.

Meanwhile, demonstrators called on others online not to bring cellphones to the demonstration so that they could not be later tracked and required to quarantine if they happened to be in the vicinity of a confirmed coronavirus patient.