The government on Sunday approved in principle a draft law that would increase fines on those who violate coronavirus regulations.
The bill will be debated on Monday at the coronavirus cabinet meeting and then passed onto the Knesset, where it is expected to meet strong opposition, later in the week. The Health Ministry and outgoing coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu have been pushing to increase fines since last month, but due to opposition, mainly from the ultra-Orthodox, the legislation has not moved forward.
On the table is increasing the fines for opening or operating a business against regulations from NIS 5,000 to 10,000, for holding a wedding or other large event from NIS 5,000 to NIS 20,000 and for opening an educational institution from NIS 5,000 to NIS 20,000.
“It’s crazy that we’re opening up in a dramatic way without raising fines,” senior Health Ministry officials were quoted as saying over the weekend. “It’s critical. Five thousand shekels does not deter anyone.”
But haredi (ultra-Orthodox) lawmakers have informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that they will not support such a move – especially when the infection rate is declining. The heads of the United Torah Judaism Party, MKs Ya’acov Litzman and Moshe Gafni, said that if the bill came to the Knesset, they would vote against it in every possible forum.
“We said and have continued to repeat that we would oppose raising the level of fines, which are high anyway against the backdrop of the difficult economic situation in which Israeli citizens find themselves,” said UTJ faction chairman Yitzhak Pindrus. He specifically cited the number of businesses that are collapsing.
“The government should formulate solutions and not increase fines,” Pindros said.
He did not mention education institutions, hundreds of which have been opening illegally since the High Holy Days.
Either way, the decision to move forward with considering increased fines comes on the same day as many businesses are threatening to open on Monday or Tuesday, despite a decision by the government to hold off allowing even street shops to operate until November 8.
“Go out and earn a living!” said one of the members of the movement in the video. “The government has lost it.”
The “I Am Shulman” movement said it would provide legal services to help businesses that decide to reopen.
“We are giving the government 24 hours to think about it and to change their delusional decision,” said the movement in an ultimatum, saying that the government had until Monday to provide a logical and fair plan.
The BIG shopping center group followed the move by announcing on Sunday morning that it will open its open-air centers in “green” cities on Monday, and will begin demanding full rent and fees from businesses located in the centers.
In a letter to businesses in BIG centers, BIG group CEO Hay Galis stressed on Sunday that while businesses received support and compensation from the government and unpaid leave, the BIG group did not receive the same support and did not send workers on unpaid leave. The group also forgave rent and management fees.
“We did not receive a single shekel for this period, neither from the state nor from you,” wrote Galis, adding that the group had tried, and failed, to convince business owners to protest against the conduct and decisions of the government.
“The ability to open business is in your hands, from now the results are also passed onto your shoulders. Carry it and succeed,” wrote the CEO. “Now it’s your turn. The honorable government is playing with us, playing with you, asking for a few more days, and a few more days, because of the hysteria and disconnection of the Health Ministry and the prime minister’s inability or unwillingness to make a decision.”
The battle over business between Finance Minister Israel Katz and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein began last week, carried through the weekend and resurfaced first thing Sunday morning when Katz called for the street shops to be opened as early as this coming Tuesday: “The need and justification exist and are justified, and morbidity is also declining. The insistence of…