“Bibi has forgotten where his most faithful supporters are. This decision will cost him at least two mandates at the next elections, I will see to that personally."
By PEGGY CIDOR
The three men hanging around at the entrance to the Mahaneh Yehuda market on Agrippas Street looked as gloomy as someone mourning. They starred at the shuk’s main street refusing to believe their eyes.What wars and two intifadas couldn’t do, an invisible virus spreading all over the world has achieved: for the first time, the shuk was shut down. Avi and his two friends, owners of three of the stalls inside the market just stood there, trying to understand how that could happen to them.“We are all shaken and heartbroken here” says Talia Friedman, president of the shuk merchants’ association. “We heard, like all the citizens of the country, that a decision by the prime minister, based on assessment of the Ministry of Health, was to shut down the two largest markets in the country – Hacarmel and Mahaneh Yehuda, as part of the new restrictions taken on Saturday night (March 21) that seemed to include us, albeit without naming the shuk itself. I immediately asked Mayor Moshe Lion and received a calming message, that the shuk would be excepted. But that was Saturday night, and then came Sunday morning and everything was turned upside down.”Nino Peretz, president of the merchants’ association until October 2018 sounds more angry than sad.“This is outrageous” says Peretz. “Bibi has forgotten where his most faithful supporters are. This decision will cost him at least two mandates at the next elections, I will see to that personally.”The new drama at the shuk is complex. Peretz is right – Mahaneh Yehuda is one of the strongholds of the Likud, where he (Peretz) himself is one of the leading activists in the city. But the seeds of the anger were planted long ago.“Since this crisis began, we have been seeing that the large supermarkets chains get all the attention and support, while we here, are thrown to the streets to get along by any means we can. This is unacceptable.”AdvertisementFriedman says that the contradictory announcements have created a poisonous atmosphere of distrust. The first hint that the open-air markets would be shut down came on Friday last week. By Saturday night I received confirmation from several authorities, including the police and the mayor’s office, assuring me that Mahaneh Yehuda would not be shut down. I came here and told all the merchants that they could continue business as usual, with restrictions imposed, such as keeping social distance and so on. Merchants ordered goods valued at more than NIS 1 million. What will they do with all this merchandise and commitments now? Who will compensate them? This is insane.”Most of the mistrust and confusion comes from the fact that while vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and bakeries are officially listed as essential merchandise, according to the latest rule, they are allowed to be sold only in large supermarkets, and not authorized for sale in small and medium shops. On Sunday afternoon, right after the police came to shut down the shuk, Peretz and a group of his friends – all dedicated supporters of Netanyahu, issued to an open letter to the Prime Minister’s Office and released it on the social media, accusing him of preferring the large chains, more specifically the Rami Levy chain, and abandoning the shuk merchants who have always supported him.“Until noon on Sunday, we were all sure that the threat was behind us, but at 12.30 the chief of the Lev Ha’ir police station showed up and ordered us to shut everything down,” says Friedman. “I can swear he had tears in his eyes, but we had no other choice than to fulfill the orders and shut down.”But Peretz fumes and refuses to surrender.“All the culinary businesses, about 45% of the shuk, closed down. So did the clothing, shoes and perfumeries, another 15%. so we are left with a small part of the shops, all selling what has been defined as essential – so what is the problem? The municipality could send the inspectors here who are not working now (no tickets for illegal parking presently) to control at the two main entrances of the shuk how many people get in. They could also check their temperatures at the same time. It’s possible that somebody is interested in seizing the occasion to terminate Mahaneh Yehuda.”Friedman says she is in constant contact with Mayor Lion and she still hopes logic will prevail.A municipality spokeswoman replied that the shuk is shuttered in keeping with the instructions issued by Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and the Prime Minister’s Office. At press time, the police had blocked all entrances to the shuk, allowing only delivery of merchandise – the result of talks between the merchants, police and mayor.