Small business owners protest, demand government action as lockdown continues

Protest outside Israel’s parliament by self-employed calls on government to throw economic lifeline as most of them forced to stay closed in first stage of easing of closure.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Self-employed Israelis and workers at small businesses held an angry protest outside the Knesset Sunday, accusing the government of abandoning them and excluding them from economic support packages and changes to ease restrictions on business.

Hundreds of demonstrators outside Israel’s parliament said closures imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Israel were forcing many of them into bankruptcy. They called on the government to “not to eliminate the self-employed in Israel” and warned that many of them were going hungry and were desperate for “a lifeline – and not a hanging rope,” Channel 13 reported.

A majority of the more than half a million self-employed business owners have been forced out of work due to government-imposed health restrictions. The owners said many had lost their only source of income, but still had to pay expenses and outstanding bills, as well as rent and insurance.

Protesters demanded the same rights enjoyed by salaried employees with regard to calculating unemployment benefits and the establishment of a compensation fund for small businesses.

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“This government has ruined their lives without stopping to think what it does to the economy and what it does to them and their families. They must help them, and quickly” said Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition party Yesh Atid.

At a similar protest nearby outside the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hundreds of food retailers, marketers and members of the Israel Farmers Association in Jerusalem rallied against the decision not to open the popular outdoor markets in cities including the Mahane Yehuda Shuk in Jerusalem and the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.

“The decision to close the open-air markets has resulted in estimated damage of about 100 million shekels ($27 million) to market owners, traders and farmers,” a farming association statement said.

Farming association Secretary General and former Knesset member Avshalom Vilan, said nobody had received a logical explanation from the government as to why the open markets remain closed.

“Everyone is hurt by this. Consumers are exposed to rising prices, farmers and traders are in economic collapse,” Vilan told Channel 13. Vilan said the solution is simple, but “the government just needs to want to implement it.”

Also in Jerusalem, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin invited several of the small business owners who were protesting outside his official residence to come in and meet with him.

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“We are not getting anything, not even the grants that were announced we would get,” a kindergarten teacher identified only as Lucy told Rivlin. “Our requests have been denied and we got nothing. In the meantime, we are just paying out and our debts are mounting, and they expect us to go back to work … when the staff are very afraid they will get the virus.”

“It is very important that the Finance Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office work quicker because what is happening could lead to anarchy. We expect our elected representatives to set a personal example and show us how they are also bearing the burden,” businessman Abir Kara said.

Rivlin told the protesters he had meetings scheduled with top cabinet ministers and would personally bring up their concerns.

“I know that until children go back to school parents cannot go back to work and I know that we cannot protect the public at your expense,” Rivlin said. “I understand that you are in a tough situation with the banks and I promise you I will do everything possible to relay your protest.”

Self-employed Israelis, including cosmetics workers, also held protests in Tel Aviv after finding out their businesses would not benefit from eased restrictions, with protests also taking place in Haifa and in northern Israel, Ynet reported.