Israel implemented serious restrictions on public gatherings and restaurants while completely shutting down gyms and event halls immediately on Monday after a spike in coronavirus cases. — just a few weeks after some of these businesses were allowed to reopen.
The new restrictions are being declared a “death knell” for many businesses in the hospitality and cultural sectors. This new set of directives included the immediate closure of event halls, clubs, bars, gyms, public pools and cultural performances. Indoor gatherings are limited to 20 people and outdoor events must be capped at 50. Restaurants are restricted to only 20 diners inside and 30 outside.
Even houses of worship fall under these new rules and will be capped at 19 participants. Summer camps for children from fourth grade and up have been shut down as well.
“To save lives and to save the economy, we must flatten the curve,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said at a press briefing defending these new measures. Unfortunately, just after this announcement Edelstein hosted a party for his wife, where there were no masks or social distancing. This is now the fourth time a senior minister blatantly broke the rules that the rest of the country is expected to keep.
During a Zoom meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, members of the Israel Bar and Club Association erupted in cries of desperation.
“We will not survive! There will be no business sir! We ask that you tell us, as you said at the beginning of the campaign, that within 48 hours we have the money. Please say it sir,” Ronen Miley, former chairman of the Israel Bar and Club Association, implored Netanyahu.
While Netanyahu has promised to help business owners, many of the association members expressed a lack of faith in the government.
“The Israeli government has failed in the last three months to prepare for another wave of contagion and has failed in a colossal failure, similar to the beginning of the crisis, in dealing with the economic aspect,” said restaurant association CEO Shai Berman.
Berman said the business owners will have to shift the burden of its employees onto the government by sending them all on unemployment.
“Unfortunately, we have to remove responsibility for our beloved 150,000 workers, which the Israeli government will need to find a solution for,” he said. “We are anxious for the fate of over 10,000 entrepreneurs in the field, who will be taking to the streets in the next few days with a sack of debt and without any social security, due to the Israeli government’s opposition, to grant it.”
The Knesset also passed an unprecedented and controversial law giving the Netanyahu power to enact emergency regulations without the oversight or approval of the full Knesset. A quick cabinet vote — that can be conducted via text message — is all that is needed to rubber stamp new ordinances. The Knesset will then have one week to vote on them.
Opposition lawmakers quickly condemned the new law, some calling Netanyahu a dictator and comparing Israel to the governments in Turkey and even North Korea.
“Remember this day when the Knesset ceased to exist,” said Knesset Member Orna Barbivai. “Anyone who votes to annihilate our democracy will be a partner to this black day.”
Amir Fuchs, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, said the law “would provide the government with far too much leeway and would exempt it from the necessary parliamentary oversight.”
“Overcoming COVID-19 is indeed a significant challenge that demands flexibility from the government,” Fuchs said. “Yet democratic process and genuine debate in the Knesset are not ‘burdens’ on the cabinet. Knesset debates are not only an important tool in safeguarding civil rights but also in obtaining the public’s trust. Passing this law in such a hasty manner will have the opposite effect. Such dramatic decisions must be approved by the Knesset and made with full parliamentary oversight.”
Last week, Netanyahu blamed the prolonged voting process for delays in enforcing new regulations.
“Legal rules force us – it’s just unbelievable – to pass everything through parliament,” he said.
A poll released Monday evening showed plummeting public trust and support for the prime minister’s handling of the crisis, after getting high marks around the world and at home, for his handling of the first wave of Corona.