Israeli business owners rage over the effects of COVID-19

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s transitional government has announced a NIS 90b. economic recovery package, one that includes a fund for small and medium businesses.

A Black Flag protest near Habima National Theater in Tel Aviv on April 16 2020  (photo credit: AVRAHAM SASSONI)
A Black Flag protest near Habima National Theater in Tel Aviv on April 16 2020
(photo credit: AVRAHAM SASSONI)
If anger is a great agent for political change, then this country’s political leadership class has reason for concern.
This concern is not, as might have been expected, because of a public up in arms over its politicians not having agreed on the composition of an emergency government even in the wake of COVID-19’s devastation. No, the public seems sadly resigned to a dysfunctional political establishment, even in the midst of a crisis.
The anger is coming from a different source: from the business sector, from owners of small stores and restaurants who are being financially devastated by the plague, and who – despite reading bombastic headlines about emergency relief – have yet to see the money.
Harel Wizel, the CEO of the Fox Group fashion chain, gave voice to that anger in a volcanic exchange on Monday on Channel 12 News this week with National Economic Council chairman Avi Simhon. Granted, Wizel – with a chain of some 200 stores nationwide, as well as dozens overseas – is not exactly a small businessman. But he articulated their concerns in his angry exchange with Simhon.
Out of a NIS 21 billion fund set up for small businesses, Wizel shouted at Simhon, how much was distributed?
“Nearly a billion,” Simhon replied.
“Less than a billion!” Wizel screamed.
Turning to the television audience, he said: “I ask you, is it logical that a fund for very small businesses, not for the rich but for the poor, for people without anything to eat – a fund of NIS 21 billion – and they gave less than a billion? What are they waiting for? That everyone will starve to death? Shame on you!”
And though there was no small degree of theatrics in Wizel’s performance, he did raise a valid point. Why is it taking so long for the government to disburse funds that the owners of small and medium businesses so desperately need?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s transitional government has announced a NIS 90b. economic recovery package, one that includes a fund for small and medium businesses. These are the owners of falafel stands, phone repair shops and small clothing stores, whose annual turnover is less than NIS 400 million and who desperately need an influx of funds to make it through the crisis.
The fund was set up through the banks, with the government guaranteeing 85% of the loans that the small business owners could apply for. The banks, however, are showing no great willingness to risk the other 15%, and as a result there is a large sum of money in a fund that is inaccessible to those who need it most. 
Promises of money down the line do little to help small business owners who need the money now, since they have bills to pay but no revenue – because of the lockdown – from which to pay them. 
While these businesspeople must have realistic expectations and must understand that the government is going to be hard-pressed to provide them with everything they want, they do have the right to expect the government to act swiftly and with a sense of urgency.
And that is where Wizel’s anger – which was on full display – comes into play. He is not alone. There are thousands and thousands of business owners out there whose businesses are failing and who are looking for efficient remedies from the government.
This anger will come out, and it is likely to come out in the next election, when there is sure to emerge a party or parties representing the interests of small businesspeople and the coronavirus unemployed.
But that doesn’t have to happen. The government needs to improve the way it is helping small businesses, which make up the backbone of the economy. These are people who are plumbers, tour guides, coffee shop owners and others, just trying to make ends meet and provide for their families. 
The government has a responsibility to care for its citizens. Sadly, it is failing, and if it continues to fail, it should keep one important point in mind: Anger is a great agent for political change.