Israelis. It may not be the virus that kills them

As the China virus sweep its destructive path round the world, including in Israel, leaving health and medical experts advising governments and authorities to take radical measures to “flatten the curve,” healthy populations have had their lives totally disrupted potentially to the point of personal and familial ruin.

The virus and stringent government imposed steps have inflicted an unbearable economic toll on the nation.

Perhaps the most vulnerable are the self-employed not fully covered by National Insurance benefits or other relief that employed workers enjoy in such circumstances. These are the individuals who are worried by a double load of debt, home and business, piling up.

In Israel, as elsewhere, small business owners are shackled with big bills and zero income, shop owners with stock but no buyers, restaurant owners with rotting food and no customers.

Too many people are spiritually depressed and financially ruined through no fault of their own. This is not the promised land they expected, or deserve.

All across the land once proud and happy workers live with the uncertainty of whether they will be able to put food on the table, have the ability to pay rent, arnona, mortgages, or put their shattered lives back together again.

They do not deserve this, and there is only one resource they can turn to, the government they recently voted for.

Individual and company debt must be borne by the government who ordered them out of their jobs and livelihood, and to become prisoners in their homes with mouths to feed and no ability to pay for it.

We have seen our Prime Minister take decisive and affirmative action to confront the virus plague. We see him instruct and order us to take personal drastic steps to restore the health of the nation. But we are waiting to hear what drastic steps he will take to heal our economic pain.

This is important because, if he does not do so immediately, it may be this that kills us, not the virus.

The people are hurting, but not from the virus. The people are fearful for their future. The collateral damage may be more painful for most than the virus itself.

Our politicians have wasted billions of shekels of taxpayers’ money playing in the casino of serial elections for almost a year. It is time for them to repay their debt to the people by turning their attention and budget away from themselves and on to the ordinary citizens they have abused by their prolonged game of House of Cards.

Bibi must follow Trump’s lead and come up with a multi-billion-shekel rescue plan to save shattered lives and businesses.

Its components must include government benefits, free services, tax relief, help with mortgage debt, an enforced delay in payment for arnona, utility costs, expanded unemployment coverage, relief for student loan debt, even family grants. There must be ways to keep the lights on and phones working in homes of families temporarily unable to pay their bills, especially for the elderly and the infirm.

The government has to step in to help Israelis impacted by job loss, small businesses and major industries, impacted by government orders to close down the country.

In America, the Trump administration are giving direct payments to every household or individual to help them buy some time.

Municipalities should relieve their citizens and businesses of arnona payments and have the government step in to cover that debt. Same for electricity and water companies with millions trapped in their homes who are using greater amounts of these utilities but no income to pay for them.

Israel should not follow the American example of paying more money to people at home than they earned when employed. This would disincentivize unemployed workers from going back to work when the crisis is over.

A government stimulus package must use a budget to rev up industry and major companies when the country gets back to business. Too many private businesses small and large are on the brink of bankruptcy with little ability to open shop or office and re-employ people when the time comes to get back to work.

If anyone has to go into debt it has to be our government and not businesses and individual citizens.

In Israel’s case, the government can cover that debt by borrowing money and mortgaging the future financial windfall due to come our way with the income from our development of the huge energy reserves just off our shores.

This fortune was promised to lead us to prosperity. It should be used instead to cover individual debt and to stimulate the economy.

The government must mortgage that future to cover the bills of Israeli citizens and businesses. They must come up with a stimulus package that will quickly revive an economy that the virus, and the steps ordered by the government, have ruined.

It is their singular responsibility. One that the Israeli voter will never forgive them for if they fail to commit to each and every Israeli that face an uncertain and unhealthy economic future.

Let this be their legacy of surviving the virus.

About the Author
Barry Shaw is the Senior Associate for Public Diplomacy at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. He is also the author of ‘Fighting Hamas, BDS and Anti-Semitism,' '1917. From Palestine to the Land of Israel, 'BDS for IDIOTS,' and his latest work 'A Tale of Love and Destiny,' the dramatic life of a Jewish heroine.
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