Thousands of Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Saturday, protesting what they call Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to address economic woes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Several hundred protesters blocked main roads in the city, committed acts of vandalism and burned dumpsters as the demonstration escalated in severity into the night. Police forces at the scene tried dispersing the protesters, and were attacked with tear gas and bottles. One protester threw a brick at a bank branch, shattering its window. Three officers were lightly wounded. Twelve protesters were arrested on charges of disturbing the public order, and 19 others taken in for questioning.

With economic stress deepening in recent weeks, many Israelis believe that the government has not done enough to compensate hundreds of thousands of workers who lost their jobs as a result of restrictions and shutdowns. Unemployment has surged more than 20 percent, and Netanyahu has seen his popularity decline.


Video: Avi Cohen

The protest was organized by entrepreneurs and business owners who gathered in central Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.

“The Israeli government and its leader are responsible for the failure in implementing aid programs,” the organizers stated on a Facebook page devoted to the rally, stressing that they didn’t want to affiliate the demonstration with any political faction and expressly asked mainstream politicians to refrain from attendance.

“We are already out of work for nearly five months, and unfortunately, most of us have not received any compensation from the Israeli government and this is really a tragedy,” said protester Daniel Tieder. “In every country all over the world people have received compensation and support from their government. Unfortunately, here in Israel, nothing came yet.”

Michal Gaist-Casif, vice president of a sound and lighting company, said, “I have 40 workers with no income, no money. We need the government to pump in money until we’re back to normal. We haven’t been working since mid-March through April, May, June and July. And August is looking to be a catastrophe.”

Addressing the crowd at the protest, Ahinoam Nehmad, the owner of a domestic tourism company and father of five, said, “The fight began with the lockdown and continued when we did not receive fair compensation. We fight for the present, for our livelihood, for our dignity as human beings, and that is not nonsense,” he said. Just last week, Likud Minister without Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi, dismissed as “nonsense” claims that some Israelis don’t have enough money for food amid the economic crisis. Hanegbi later apologized for the comments.

In Jerusalem where another demonstration was taking place, police arrested 10 people suspected of disturbing public order.

In an interview with Channel 13 News Saturday evening, Finance Minister Israel Katz asserted that “we haven’t lost control over what’s happening in the economy.”

He promised that the latest government stipend for independents and small businesses “will reach the bank on Tuesday, and you’ll see this in your account on Wednesday.”

With less than half of the $29 billion previously pledged in aid paid out, Netanyahu on Thursday announced an economic “safety net,” promising quick relief to the self-employed and stipends over the coming year for struggling workers and business owners.

But the large turnout at Rabin Square was a sign of widespread discontent with the government’s policies.

“People feel helpless. There’s no response. They are enraged and want the government to take responsibility,” said Roee Cohen, president of the Israel Chamber of Independent Organizations and Businesses.

Israeli Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz wrote on Facebook: “The citizens taking to the streets this evening to express their real and justified distress have every right to do so. And we, as their government, have the responsibility to listen and to work toward finding practical solutions.”

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