Businesses threaten not to close without compensation if lockdown imposed

The National Insurance Institute expects up to 300,000 Israelis will be out of work should the government enforce state-wide lockdown, some say more

Small business owners of Jerusalem Boulevard in Jaffa, on April 30, 2019. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Small business owners of Jerusalem Boulevard in Jaffa, on April 30, 2019.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
If the government enforces a nationwide closure of all nonessential services and bans optional travel within the country, Israel will lose NIS 5 billion per week, according to the Finance Ministry. Shutting down the country for four weeks will cause a loss of NIS 20b., it said Sunday.
Business owners were hoping to increase their earnings after the March-April lockdown, since this time of year is usually when people get a haircut, buy new clothes and improve their homes for the High Holy Days and Sukkot. Instead, they took to the streets on Saturday evening, vowing not to obey the restrictions unless offered compensation.
“When we began the COVID-19 era, we had 14,000 business and 203,000 workers,” Shay Berman, head of the Union of Restaurant Owners, told The Jerusalem Post. “Now, we have 12,000 businesses and 120,000 workers. Unless we see an effective, coordinated economic plan on the table, it’s not sure that we will reopen.”
After meeting with Finance Minister Israel Katz over the weekend, Berman said the ministry is willing to decrease the minimum loss needed to qualify for aid from 40% (when compared to 2019 earnings) to 25% today.
“We hope to see plans that will ensure future growth and not more stagnation,” he said.
From the point of view of restaurant owners, any further restrictions regarding the number of patrons allowed in restaurants or a night curfew would be like a lockdown, Berman said.
“We are waiting to hear the decision, as right now, there isn’t one,” he told the Post.
During the last lockdown, restaurant owners told cheering patrons they would not close down. Potential mass disobedience is also being discussed in the media, such as driving to visit relatives, going swimming in a river or having businesses stay open regardless of fines and police presence.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman has called on the public to “listen to its common sense.” He is abiding by social-distancing guidelines and working from home after being checked for COVID-19, he said Sunday in a press release.
“What [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and Katz are doing to us is making sure we die by putting a bullet in our head,” a barber told KAN News on Saturday evening from a protest near the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. “I will keep my business open, and my friends will too, unless we are given money right now.”
Economy Minister Amir Peretz told KAN News he intends to vote against a nationwide lockdown and instead to promote the “German model” of unemployment and compensating businesses by giving them 15% of their operational costs during its duration. He declined to answer why such steps have not been introduced.
Under the Israeli model, workers are sent on unpaid leave, making it harder to reenter the job market. Under the German model, the state offers employers funds to keep people employed until the economy improves.
A nationwide lockdown would be “like dropping an ax on the nation’s economy” and will “push hundreds of thousands of Israelis into poverty,” Histadrut chairman Arnon Bar-David said.
As many as 300,000 Israelis will be out of work should the government enforce such a lockdown, according to the National Insurance Institute. Some people believe that figure is too optimistic.
A nationwide lockdown will mean a “huge drop in the living standards of Israelis for the next decade and rolling massive debts on to [the shoulders of] the next generations,” Manufacturers Association of Israel president Ron Tomer said Sunday at an emergency meeting.
“We all know this is not the last lockdown,” association vice president Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin said. The government “doesn’t know what it is doing to the industry,” she said.
Tzvi Maron, head of the association’s hi-tech union, said the rate at which hi-tech companies are moving their management overseas is “growing rapidly.” Being that the virus could “be with us for decades to come,” the government should take the lead in determining how firms can continue to function alongside it, he said.
So far, the government has used half of its 2020 Economic Plan budget. Thirty-one percent of the approved budget to encourage employment has been used, and 45% of the funds earmarked to support technology and infrastructure programs to help the nation out of COVID-19 poverty have been spent.
The first stage of the lockdown is meant to last two weeks from late September to early October. But there are no guarantees the restrictions will then be lifted.
“Nobody knows how much time we will need to decrease the infection rate,” National Economic Council chairman Avi Simhon said Sunday.
Unless the numbers go down, the lockdown will continue for “up to two months,” TheMarker reported Sunday.