Hundreds of Self-employed Israelis Protest Government Handling of Economic Crisis

'The worst thing I’ve gone through is seeing my wife afraid, crying and trembling at night. The state is abandoning us'

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Small-business owners protest the government’s handling of the economic crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, Tel Aviv, April 26, 2020.
Small-business owners protest the government’s handling of the economic crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, Tel Aviv, April 26, 2020. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Hundreds of people demonstrated Sunday in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem to protest the government’s handling of the economic crisis that has resulted from the battle to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

The Tel Aviv demonstration on Rothschild Boulevard was initiated by the Association of Independent Businesspeople. In Haifa several dozen people demonstrated near Carmel Beach and then traveled in a convoy to the city’s government precinct. In Jerusalem some 30 stall owners in the Mahane Yehuda market rallied to demand they be allowed to open their businesses, just as street stores have been allowed to do.

One of the Tel Aviv demonstrators, Liran Yitzhaki, said, “This return to routine is a sham. Payments are going out and people haven’t been working for two months. Shai Babad [the Finance Ministry director-general] talks down to us; let him come talk to us. Why is he is earning 43,000 shekels [$12,200 a month] and I’m earning zero? Why are the banks sitting around as if nothing has happened?”

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Guy Mizrahi, a hair stylist and owner of a bridal salon, added, “By law, we are entitled to property tax [payments] to maintain our business since the state closed it, and at the same time we should get unemployment so that we can bring food home. The worst thing I’ve gone through is seeing my wife afraid, not sleeping, crying and trembling at night. The state is abandoning us.”

Another protester, Orli Almog, called to stop paying taxes in protest. “For this I’m prepared to go to prison,” she said. “The state has been ignoring us [self-employed business owners] for 70 years and it’s time to put a stop to this theft from businesses in broad daylight.”

Revital Tamir, a theater teacher and artist, said, “I have a sister in Germany who is getting help from the state with no bureaucracy involved. I know that we are light years from the German welfare state but I expect money for every self-employed person without bureaucracy and [for the state] to trust them and provide assistance that can save their businesses.”

Small-business owners protest the government’s handling of the economic crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, Haifa, April 26, 2020.

One of the Haifa demonstrators said he’s owned a preschool for 21 years, and one of the mothers told him that her daughter had found a shekel and wanted to give it to him so that he could open the preschool. “I want that shekel so that I can open the preschool that I so love,” he said. “We’re fed up, the government has to wake up!”

Meanwhile, the Tel Aviv Municipality dismantled a tent protest camp that had been set up on Rothschild Boulevard on Friday. It had issued an evacuation order for the tents on Friday, but in the end allowed them to remain for two days. The municipality said erecting tents contravened Health Ministry orders regarding public gatherings and that the tents were bothering area residents seeking fresh air in the public space.

In 2012 the Supreme Court approved guidelines under which the municipality could take down tent protest camps 48 hours after they were erected. The city had suggested that the demonstrators move the tents to a different place, like Rabin Square, but would not permit them to sleep there. The demonstrators refused.

“We condemn the anti-democratic eviction that undermines freedom of expression and protest,” said one of the protest organizers, Costa Black. “It’s a protest of people who’ve lost their livelihood and have come to express their distress.” However, he added that the protesters “thank the municipality for its cooperation and concern during the two days of protest. We observed the Health Ministry regulations, but don’t think this is the end; we haven’t even begun.”

The Tel Aviv Municipality said it “sees freedom of expression as a supreme value and is doing a lot to promote it in the public space. In recent weeks the municipality has approved dozens of protests across the city and it plans to continue doing so. But observance of the regulations is of supreme importance especially during the time the coronavirus pandemic is spreading.”

It should be noted that the city doesn’t have the authority to permit or reject requests to hold demonstrations; that authority lies with the police.

The city said it has started to “prepare Rabin Square to host protests, rallies and demonstrations given the increase in the number of requests to hold such events by organizations and groups of businessmen and various economic sectors. Among other things, the city will put special markings two meters apart on the square’s plaza to make it easier to demonstrate at this time, we will make the guidelines for holding rallies in the public space especially accessible, and we will make various infrastructures available to hold rallies.”

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