The lockdown aid package is welcome, but more must be done

The government must do much more to ease the economic burden of the many Israelis harmed by the lockdown.

Providing assistance at the new Business Support Center in Jerusalem (photo credit: NOAM ROMANO)
Providing assistance at the new Business Support Center in Jerusalem
(photo credit: NOAM ROMANO)
We applaud the initiative by President Reuven Rivlin and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn unveiled Tuesday to set in motion a special pardon process for Israelis facing fines who are in financial difficulties as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The joint clemency initiative by the President’s Office and the Justice Ministry applies to those in debt due to the current government restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. Under the process, a committee will examine the unique financial situation of each applicant, his or her ability to pay the fine in question, the amount of effort the applicant invested in trying to pay the fine and the total sum owed.
According to a joint statement, the clemency plan was drafted by advocate Udit Corinaldi-Sirkis, legal adviser to the President’s Office, and advocate Nochi Politis, head of the pardons department at the Justice Ministry, “in light of the serious financial consequences faced by many since the outbreak of the virus, including those in debt because of fines issued in the past and who are in serious financial difficulties because of the fight against the virus and are finding it difficult to pay their debts at the moment.”
“It is our duty to do everything we can to help those in arrears to keep their heads above water,” Nissenkorn said. “The special process we are announcing today will give further relief to the many people in debt because of fines and will answer the financial difficulties they are in by using the right to grant pardons.”
Rivlin explained the rationale for the move, saying it was the state’s responsibility to do all it could to help its citizens.
“Too many Israelis have found themselves, overnight, fighting for their lives financially,” Rivlin said. “At a time like this, the State of Israel must lend a hand to its people and help those who need it.”
It should be noted that the pardon process does not apply to fines issued for breaches of regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We will not consider requests for reducing fines given for breaching the regulations to prevent the spread of corona, but rather reduction of fines for those whose financial situation has worsened because of the fight against corona,” the president stated. “We rely on each other, for better or worse – and it is right for us to all fight the virus together, out of a commitment to mutual responsibility.”
While Rivlin’s sentiments are welcome, the fine waiver – as laudable as it might be – is just a Band-Aid solution. The government must do much more to ease the economic burden of the many Israelis harmed by the three-week lockdown that started on September 18.
The cabinet did the right thing in passing a NIS 10.5 billion aid package late Monday night to assist those affected by the second lockdown. It also did the right thing to approve a voluntary 10% pay cut for ministers, including the prime minister. And Rivlin did the right thing to request a similar cut in his salary.
But this is not nearly enough. As Israel on Tuesday reached another daily record of infections and the government moved to tighten restrictions on public gatherings, including prayers and protests, much more needs to be done to help Israelis get through this difficult period.
In order to rectify its gross mismanagement of the health and economic crisis that Israel is currently experiencing, the government must now provide not just an economic safety net but a long-term plan for Israelis facing financial breakdown.
Handouts such as the cash given directly to many Israelis are also Band-Aids that only last for a short period. What the government should do is appoint a high-level committee to examine the best ways to provide long-term assistance to Israelis struggling to get through this tough period.
The committee could be headed by Bank of Israel Gov. Amir Yaron and include the best business, economic and strategic minds in the country. As Israel reaps the fruits of its recent peace deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, all Israelis should benefit from the results.
Yes, forgiving fines undoubtedly helps those in financial stress. But providing them with real hope for the future is much more desirable in the long run.