In a bid to calm the masses protesting across the country against his economic policy, the Israeli prime minister introduced a number of measures to keep the economy afloat. The problem, believes an Israeli expert on the economy, is that the steps being taken are way too unrealistic and don’t offer much needed solutions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government are still considering possible restrictions in a bid to contain the spread of the pandemic that has already claimed the lives of more than 400 people in the country.
Although new measures haven’t been fully revealed yet, Netanyahu is thinking of limiting restaurants to only fifty visitors, dependent upon the condition they host them outside, while a decision on summer schools, museums, and gyms is expected later this week, getting on the public’s already strained nerves. The latter have been hitting the street across the country over the last few days protesting against the government’s policies.
Cracks in Assistance?
In an attempt to calm down the masses and to stimulate the economy, at the beginning of July, Netanyahu announced that his government would hand out up to $2,181 in assistance to each of the 500,000 small and medium businesses, whose operation was hurt due to the raging pandemic.
But as the days went by and the bureaucracy around getting that assistance became more complicated, many Israelis realised that they could not rely on the promises made by politicians.
Another thing they realised was that the $2,181 will only be given to 128,000 businesses. Others will receive much less, the sum for many will not reach $872.
For Dr Alex Coman, an economics expert from Israel’s Tel Aviv University, the government’s assistance package doesn’t make any sense.
“It was just one in the line of plans that were largely ineffective. Although they did become generous with time, they virtually offered no solution to the masses”, he lamented.
To explain his point, Coman draws a comparison with the US, who has also been hit by the pandemic but has embraced a different approach to handling its economic crisis.
“In the US they understand that small entrepreneurs are the engine that can restart the country’s economy. They are the ones who were courageous enough to invest their money and they were the ones to hire others, creating jobs. Here in Israel, however, their significance is largely downplayed”, said Coman, suggesting that money the injected was insufficient to keep the economy afloat.
The amount of money was not the only “hole” in the Israeli government’s assistance plan. Cracks have also been observed in the criteria put forward by the authorities. For example, cash injections were offered to businesses that started operating in 2018, while applications for companies launched in 2019 and 2020 were mostly denied.
In addition, grants have been calculated based on the 2019 income of owners but that sum very often didn’t reflect their real profits.
Another problem was the bureaucracy surrounding the application process.
While many did not manage to get the funds by filling out a special form on the website of the country’s tax authorities, others complained that the process was long, laborious, and required complicated calculations, something that could have been avoided had the Ministry of Finance who took charge over the process used existing social security agency information to tackle the problem.
“It is not enough for the government to say they are handing out $2.6 billion, they should also have a mechanism that would make sure to distribute that money. Israel has that mechanism but the competition between government agencies made the process inefficient and lack any sense”.
Indiscriminate Assistance Slammed by Public
Inefficiency has also been observed in yet another plan offered by Netanyahu, where he pledged up to $872 in grants to every Israeli citizen, regardless of their income and whether they have been affected by the pandemic or not.
“Giving out money to everyone is ridiculous”, said Coman. “At a time of a crisis, the more logical thing would be to focus your resources, not to disperse them. Instead of restarting the economy, the decision to hand out cash left, right, and centre has reached an opposite effect”, he argued, adding that the current policies led to a situation, where many preferred to stay unemployed to keep the cash flowing, rather than look for a job.
Coman was not the only one venting anger at the decision. The Israeli media has published multiple reports of dissatisfied individuals, who called the move “populistic” and who couldn’t understand the logic behind bolstering those, who didn’t ask for assistance, while depriving families of the means to stay afloat.
Following the uproar, Netanyahu backtracked from his initial offer and although the willingness to reach “every citizens of Israel” is still on the table, reports suggest that the $1.7 billion devoted to the programme will be distributed in a way that will cater to the needs of struggling families.
The only question that still remains unanswered is whether it will be enough to get Israel’s economy moving and whether it will extinguish the fire ignited by the dissatisfied masses.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.