A young man walks past an Israeli flag at a protest camp site near the prime minister's Jerusalem residence
A young man walks past an Israeli flag at a protest camp site near the prime minister's Jerusalem residence
Photo: Reuters
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing the plan to lift some restrictions in April

'Bibi generation' starts to turn on Netanyahu over economy, COVID-19

Israel's longest-serving PM claimed success against coronavirus in May as the country came out of lockdown, but with raging second wave, unemployment at 21.5% and benefits slow to arrive, polls show only 29.5% of public now trust him to handle pandemic

Reuters |
Published: 07.30.20 , 23:46
For two months, many Israeli television viewers watched nightly as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued warnings and updates about the novel coronavirus and imposed lockdowns.
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  • When infections fell, he went on television on May 26 to boast of his success. "Have a beer. Enjoy yourselves," he said. Many Israelis did just that.
    בנימין נתניהובנימין נתניהו
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing the plan to lift some restrictions in April
    (Photo: GPO)
    But infections later surged, and opinions polls showed confidence in Netanyahu was falling. He now faces nationwide protests over the state of the economy, hit by the coronavirus.
    Waving banners outside the prime minister's official Jerusalem residence, the demonstrators are led by young people who scarcely remember any other leader -- Netanyahu has been prime minister since 2009 -- but want him to resign.
    מפגנים נגד נתניהו בירושליםמפגנים נגד נתניהו בירושלים
    A young anti-Netanyahu protester. The sign reads: 'An entire generation demands a future'
    (Photo: AP)
    "We are a generation who have lost complete faith in the system. People are fighting for their livelihood," says Costa Black, 30, who was arrested during the protests and lost his restaurant job because of the pandemic's impact on the economy. "Our leaders stopped serving us, they don't care about us."
    A July 12 poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found 29.5% trust the 70-year-old leader's handling of the crisis, down from 57.5% in April and 47% in June.
    Netanyahu has rebuked the protesters, tweeting: "Don't drag the country towards anarchy, violence and attacks against the police."
    עלי חמאדעלי חמאד
    A protester outside the prime minister's Jerusalem residence
    (Photo: EPA)
    But critics say Netanyahu -- who normally receives high marks for his economic policies -- appeared to lose interest in managing the crisis and failed to prepare a clear exit strategy after the first lockdown.
    Promised financial aid has been slow to arrive, and has been dogged by bureaucracy, businesses say.
    Some Israelis believe Netanyahu was distracted by plans to annex parts of the West Bank. Others say his attention turned to a corruption case against him, in which he denies wrongdoing.
    הפגנה הפגנות מול בית רה"מ ב בלפור ירושלים דגלים שחורים הפגנה הפגנות מול בית רה"מ ב בלפור ירושלים דגלים שחורים
    Police detain a woman wearing a Palestinian flag during the protest outside the prime minister's residence
    (Photo: AFP)
    Netanyahu dismisses the criticism. Addressing the delays in providing financial aid, he wrote on Facebook this week: "The money is on its way. We will continue to take care of all Israeli citizens and we will bring more plans soon."

    'Broken contract'

    With a population of 9 million, Israel has recorded 68,000 coronavirus infections, of which 75% occurred post-lockdown, and 497 fatalities. It is now on a "Red List" of countries whose citizens are barred from the European Union.
    A young man walks past an Israeli flag at a protest camp site near the prime minister's Jerusalem residence A young man walks past an Israeli flag at a protest camp site near the prime minister's Jerusalem residence
    A young man walks past an Israeli flag at a protest camp site near the prime minister's Jerusalem residence
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Many restrictions have been lifted to revive business activity, but unemployment hovers at 21.5% and the economy is expected to contract by 6% in 2020. A Central Bureau of Statistics survey showed 55% of Israelis fear they will have difficulty paying bills, up from 46% during lockdown.
    "Israelis understood in March-April that the situation is difficult and were willing to accept it because they felt the government was doing the utmost," Israeli Democracy Institute President Yohanan Plesner says.
    יוחנן פלסנר נשיא המכון הישראלי לדמוקרטיהיוחנן פלסנר נשיא המכון הישראלי לדמוקרטיה
    Israeli Democracy Institute President Yohanan Plesner
    "Now the sense is the government is no longer managing, from both an economic standpoint and a health standpoint," he says.
    According to Plesner, the long-term implications for Netanyahu remain unclear. But the latest poll would give his Likud Party just 31 of the Knesset's 120 seats, down five. Other right-wing parties would improve their standing.
    ההפגנה בירושליםההפגנה בירושלים
    Protesters gather at the barricade erected outside the prime minister's Jerusalem residence
    (Photo: Shalev Shalom)
    "The government has broken the contract with its citizens, that in a time of crisis it will take care of them," says Oren Elgar, 27, a computer mapper protesting in Jerusalem.
    Though protests have not reached the levels of 2011, when high living costs brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets, they are growing.
    Israelis packing the streets of Tel Aviv during the 2011 protests over the cost of living Israelis packing the streets of Tel Aviv during the 2011 protests over the cost of living
    Israelis packing the streets of Tel Aviv during the 2011 protests over the cost of living
    (Photo: Ben Kelmer)
    "Those who grew up under Netanyahu ...[wonder] why there is no money to take care of our economy right now when it's the biggest crisis we've known," said former Knesset member Stav Shaffir, who first rose to prominence as a protest leader in 2011.

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