Thousands of workers, unemployed, self-employed and small business owners took part in demonstrations throughout the country Saturday night, May 2, against the economic and social policy of the far-right government, while demanding support in the wake of the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Saturday night, rallies were held in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba, Eilat, Kiryat Shmone and Kufr Qassim, with demonstrators condemning as woefully inadequate the government’s limited economic support by means of unemployment stipends and grants. Wearing protective masks and maintaining social distancing of at least 2 meters, protesters held aloft signs demanding 100% compensation for lost wages and income and blasted the government as corrupt.
Many of the protesters were members of the Communist Party of Israel (CPI) and Hadash who had participated in commemorations of May Day – International Workers’ Day – around the country the day before, Friday, including events in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Sakhnin, Shefa-‘Amr (Shfaram), Taybe, Tira, I’billin and Kufr Yassif in the Western Galilee. On both days, the activists held aloft red flags, slogans against capitalism, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government.
Saturday night’s protests were the latest in a series of demonstrations that have drawn attention to the plight of various groups demanding increased governmental assistance and which have been held almost daily in recent weeks, even as authorities have begun to take steps to re-open the economy in line with dwindling numbers of new coronavirus infections. Among them were self-employed workers, who are not entitled to unemployment benefits. So far Israel has granted the self-employed a payment of up to NIS 6,000 ($1,700) to help them weather the pandemic and last week approved a plan including a second stipend equaling 70% of their regular income, up to a maximum amount of NIS 10,500 ($3,000). However, for many Israelis living paycheck to paycheck, the stipends, which may be slow to reach their bank accounts, are not enough.
One speaker at Tel Aviv’s Charles Clore Park said she could not afford to pay rent this month and said there were thousands of families like her. We are demanding justice, not charity,” another speaker at the rally said. The protest was organized by Standing Together, which advocates Jewish-Arab equality and socioeconomic rights, the Koah LaOvdim labor union, and a network of several NGOs.
A member of the Central Committee of the CPI, Uri Weltmann, of Standing Together, accused bourgeois politicians of only being interested in providing benefits to “their tycoon friends” while ignoring workers, self-employed and small businesses. Meanwhile, he said, Israel had “over a million unemployed, an all-time high, hundreds of thousands of self-employed who don’t know how they’ll manage, apartment renters and mortgage payers who don’t know how they’ll make next month’s payments.”
Also on Saturday night, several thousand Israelis took to the streets in Tel Aviv to demonstrate against Netanyahu’s new coalition deal with his chief rival, Benny Gantz, a day before the country’s Supreme Court is to begin debating a series of legal challenges to the agreement. Demonstrators gathered for the third consecutive weekend in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, standing two meters apart in organized rows to conform to social-distancing rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.