Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz on Sunday unveiled a nine-step plan to "jump-start" the Israeli economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite objections by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, citing election concerns.
"Just before we step out of lockdown, we have reached a crucial point where we must ensure two things," Netanyahu told a press conference.
"First, we must give aid to those hurt by the pandemic. Second, we must reinvigorate the economy by encouraging business and consumption. We are not taking our foot off the gas pedal for a moment. This is a very vigorous economic plan which will jump-start the economy and help all Israeli citizens and small businesses, first and foremost."
Katz than listed the nine steps of the NIS-15-billion plan, which has yet to be approved by the government or Knesset:
- A grant for businesses whose turnover has been affected by 25% or more.
- A one-time NIS-750 (230$) grant for all Israelis in the country's six lower-income deciles, and an extra NIS 500 ($155) for each child, up to the fourth child, and another NIS 300 (93$) from the fifth child and beyond.
- Special stipends to encourage citizens who have been unemployed for at least 80 days to rejoin the labor force.
- Special stipends for citizens with disabilities to the tune of NIS 500 million ($155 million).
- Value-added tax for small-to-mid-sized businesses will be extended by six months.
- The repayment period on certain loans for businesses will be extended by six months to a maximum of 5 years.
- Unemployment benefits for self-employed workers.
- Reducing regulations.
- Reforms to increase investments.
Mandelblit objected to the plan's unveiling, saying in a letter to Netanyahu and Katz that "Israel is in the midst of an election campaign, which requires all ministers to practice restraint on all matters regarding resource allocations and legislation."
"[They must] beware of improper use of governmental power and state resources for propaganda or gaining an unfair advantage for a particular party or candidate," he added.
During the presentation, Netanyahu dismissed Mandelblit's allegations of him using the financial plan as a tool to improve his Likud party's standing in the polls.
"Is this an election's economy? No. Does the U.S. attorney general tell the government 'you cannot do that'? Is it an election's economy to help the citizens of Israel? Maybe the attorney general can also tell me how many vaccines to bring to Israel? It would never occur to us to hurt the citizens' health or finance because there is an election. This is not an election's economy, this is a vital necessity."
Netanyahu also criticized Finance Ministry officials following reports that some of them outright objected to the plan, saying that the country's budgetary situation does not allow such expenditure, while others claimed that Katz did not even consult them on changes made to certain clauses in the plan or its scope beforehand.
"What have we come to? Clerks will tell us what and how much [to spend], what kind of democracy is this? This is the practice in all democracies, and the time has come for us to become a reformed democracy as well," Netanyahu said.