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Anti-Netanyahu Protests Spread across Israel over Battered Economy, Rise in COVID-19 Cases

Anti-Netanyahu Protests Spread across Israel over Battered Economy, Rise in COVID-19 Cases

Friday, 10 July, 2020 - 07:45
A protester waves a flag during a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new unity government with rival Benny Gantz, outside the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Asharq Al-Awsat

An unprecedented new rise in coronavirus cases has battered Israel’s economy, which pushed one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest confidants to try calm the nerves of angry Israelis. However, he undermined public's concern over economy.

The flippant comment by Cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi is symptomatic of what critics see as a bloated, out-of-touch government. It also has become a rallying cry for anti-Netanyahu protests spreading, like the virus, across the country, the Associated Press reported.

One out-of-work Israeli erupted in anger during a live television interview, berating Netanyahu and warning the country is “going to burn” if aid is not given soon.

It is a dramatic turn of events for Netanyahu, who claimed credit and was widely praised for Israel's successful management of the early stages of the crisis. Now his approval ratings are plummeting, and public health experts warn that Israel is close to being unable to cope.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Netanyahu moved quickly to close the country's borders and impose strict measures to contain the virus. By May, Israel was among the first in the world to reopen its economy. Netanyahu boasted on TV that other countries were looking to Israel as a model.

Now facing a drastic surge in confirmed virus cases, the country has begun re-imposing restrictions, such as limits on public gatherings.

Critics warn the government waited too long to respond.

“The management of the corona crisis is a humiliating national failure, it is dangerous and without precedent,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said this week.

“People are furious, and they are right to be furious."

According to AP, Israel, like other countries, is struggling to balance containing infections and protecting the economy.

Unemployment shot up to more than 25% during the first surge and many jobs have yet to come back. Small businesses, the self-employed and particularly the dining, entertainment and tourism industries are warning that another large-scale shutdown will be a death blow.

In the face of an angry electorate, Netanyahu's support has tumbled.

A Midgam Research & Consulting poll on Channel 12 TV found just 46% of respondents approved of Netanyahu's job performance, down from 74% in May.

Scrambling to respond, Netanyahu said Thursday that the government would pay monthly stipends over the coming year to help the unemployed, self-employed and business owners hurt by the corona crisis.

“The government will do everything that is required to ease the economic distress,” he said.

Though most of the anger has been focused on livelihoods, those involved in fighting the pandemic have been more concerned about public health.

A top Health Ministry official credited with helping contain the initial outburst stepped down this week over differences on how the new government was handling the current spike.

In her resignation letter, Sigal Sadetsky, the outgoing head of the public health services department, bemoaned how the “handling of the pandemic had lost direction.”

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