Israelis stage protest rally over government response to COVID-19

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Thousands of Israelis have staged a demonstration in Tel Aviv to protest against what they say is economic hardship caused by the government’s mishandling of the coronavirus crisis.

With economic stress deepening in recent weeks, many Israelis think the government has not done enough to compensate hundreds of thousands of workers who lost their jobs as a result of restrictions and shutdowns.

In keeping with restrictions on public gatherings, police limited the number of people allowed into Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square for the rally on Saturday, July 11, as nearby streets filled with demonstrators wearing face masks.

“I have 40 workers with no income, no money,” said Michal Gaist-Casif, vice-president of a sound and lighting company.

“We need the government to pump in money until we’re back to normal. We haven’t been working since mid-March through April, May, June and July, and August is looking to be a catastrophe.”

No official figure for the number of protesters was given while Israeli media estimated the number of attendees to be in the thousands.

Unemployment in Israel has soared to 21% since the country went into partial lockdown in March and aid packages promised by the government have been slow to come through, frustrating Israelis who fear they are on the verge of economic collapse.

Alarmed by a new spike in COVID-19 cases which surged after the economy began reopening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week re-imposed a series of restrictions in a bid to contain infections, shutting down a slew of businesses again.

With less than half of the US$29 billion previously pledged in aid paid out and anger building, Netanyahu announced a new welfare package on Thursday, saying the measures would provide an economic safety net for the coming year.

In the past few weeks, protesters from across the political spectrum have taken to the streets with demands for speedier compensation from the coalition government, which they see as overstaffed and ineffectual.

“People feel helpless, there’s no response. They are enraged and want the government to take responsibility,” said Roee Cohen, president of the Israel Chamber of Independent Organizations and Businesses. (Source: The Straits Times)

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