Thousands of Israelis filled Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square Saturday night to protest the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, angered by what they say is a critical lack of economic aid, predominantly for the self-employed.
Protesters waved yellow and black signs that called the political leaders “disconnected” and saying “enough,” while others held up signs calling this an “economic war” and demanding the government “release the money.”
“We are tired of hearing promises and press conferences,” organizer Daniel Tinder told CNN. “We want to see action, we want to see money in our accounts like all over the world. The health problem is still very severe. The economic problems are even worse. More severe than it was before.”
Following the demonstration, some protesters attempted to block roads in Tel Aviv and damaged public areas, according to Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. Twelve suspects were arrested for causing public disturbances and blocking roads, Rosenfeld said, while three police officers were lightly injured.
Some context: Unemployment in Israel hit 21% Sunday morning, according to the Israel Employment Service, as new unemployment filings were more than double the number of people returning to work over the weekend. Since Thursday, 1,250 returned to work, according to the governmental agency, but 2,843 filed for unemployment.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday morning that the government had approved up to 7,500 shekels (approx. $2,170) in “rapid assistance” to business owners and the self-employed with more steps ahead.
“This support, this grant, is not dependent on legislation and we ordered that it will be enacted already today, the button will be pressed so that the money will arrive in the accounts in the next few days,” Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting.
With the economy in such a fragile state, Netanyahu has tried to avoid another complete closure, instead employing stricter social distancing restrictions and localized lockdowns to attempt to contain the second wave of coronavirus in Israel.
Israel appeared to be on track to contain the coronavirus outbreak earlier this year, when new cases dipped as low as 20 per day in mid-May following a near-complete national lockdown. But two months later, new coronavirus cases have surged to more than 1,100 per day, raising fears of another lockdown, as the dire economic outlook has taken its toll on the public.
Tour guide Erez Deron says protesters like him are fed up with the abundance of words but the lack of action.
“The government is dealing only with petty things like taxes and words between one another,” Deron told CNN. “[Netanyahu] doesn’t see the citizens. He only cares for himself, and I’m really furious about the time they are spending on foolish things.”
During the first wave of coronavirus infections that began in late-March, Netanyahu appeared on television many nights to reassure the public that the country was doing well in its fight against Covid-19 and that he had everything under control. His approval ratings for his handling of coronavirus soared, hitting 74% in mid-May when the worst seemed to have passed. As cases have soared again in recent weeks, Netanyahu’s approval rating has tanked, dropping to 46% last week.
The crisis and the ensuing protests have exposed widening gaps within Israel’s national unity government.