Netanyahu announces new economic package amid growing criticism

What happened: Last night Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid out a new economic plan for workers financially affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

  • During a press conference, Netanyahu stood alongside Finance Minister Yisrael Katz and presented the NIS 90bn (approx. £20bn) economic package that will be in effect until the end of June 2021.
  • The plan will provide workers who were fired or put on unpaid leave with unemployment benefits, as long as the unemployment rate is higher than 10 per cent. Self-employed and business owners will receive a grant of NIS 7,500 (£1,723) next week. Small businesses will receive a grant of up to NIS 6,000 for two months, and large businesses will receive a grant to refund regular expenses.
  • In order to get the economic package to workers as soon as next week, fast-track legislation will be drawn up for the plan, approved by the cabinet this coming Sunday and submitted to the Knesset on Monday.
  • Netanyahu also announced that within a few weeks, an additional economic plan would be released, which would supplement the plan announced last night, to help the economy recover and encourage growth.
  • The Prime Minister stressed that “we are in the midst of a second wave of the coronavirus. Coping with the coronavirus requires responsible decision-making. The decisions are made by trial and error. Try, err, repair. In the first wave of the coronavirus, we had success. As a result, we lowered the morbidity statistics to a handful of people infected per day.”
  • Earlier this week Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz met with Netanyahu to try and find an agreement on passing the state budget. Whilst the meeting ending with no agreement, sources close to Gantz have said that he is aware of the details of the new economic plan.

Context: The arrival of the new economic package, as promised by Netanyahu at the start of the week, comes as criticism over the government’s handling of the coronavirus intensifies.

  • President Reuven Rivlin criticised the government for its failure to develop what he called a “clear coronavirus doctrine” on Wednesday, calling for the formation of a central state body to respond to the pandemic. “The coronavirus epidemic further deepens the need for drafting a comprehensive national security concept for the State of Israel, which not only examines itself through the sights of a rifle, but takes into account at its core social, economic and even health issues.”
  • A mass demonstration, under the slogan “We don’t accept tricks — only money in our pockets,” has been scheduled for Saturday night in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to protest the lack of government aid for workers hit by the virus restrictions and delays in receiving the promised funds. The leaders of the economic protest said: “The lack of confidence created between us and the government is unprecedented.”
  • On Wednesday the government delayed the release of pre-planned aid package for Israeli workers and businesses, amid reported disagreements over the method for distributing the funds to those in need.
  • The Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center reported this morning that 1,464 people have tested positive for the virus in the past 24 hours, Israel’s highest daily tally of confirmed cases since the outbreak of the pandemic. There are currently 16,651 active coronavirus patients in the country, of which 124 are in a serious condition, 39 are on ventilators and 350 have died due to the virus.
  • Due to the renewed closure of several sectors, yesterday was the second consecutive day in which more workers were put on unpaid leave than the number of workers returning to work. Currently, around 800,000 workers are unemployed, but that figure is likely to rise again. At the height of the pandemic in April, unemployment reached over 25 per cent, with over a million Israelis out of work.

Looking ahead: Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has warned that the government could reimpose a nationwide lockdown if the number of daily virus infections climbs to 2,000.

  • With protests scheduled for this weekend, Knesset opposition chairman Yair Lapid warned that they could turn violent.
  • Roi Cohen, president of the Israel Chamber of Independent Organizations and Businesses, has said: “Hundreds of thousands of families in Israel are on the verge of collapse, because the Israeli government thinks that it’s possible to manage with an income of 3,000 shekels per month. This government is detached from the public, and on Saturday night we will all arrive, all of the organisations, all of the self-employed, all of the business owners and all of their employees, at Rabin Square for an angry demonstration so that the prime minister and the cabinet members in Jerusalem will wake up.”

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