JERUSALEM/TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Restaurateur Tamir Barelko has had enough.
Israel’s decision last month to impose a second nationwide lockdown after a resurgence in coronavirus infections has dealt a hammer blow to the economy and the livelihoods of small business owners, Barelko says.
He launched a petition calling for small businesses to defy the lockdown and reopen from Sunday, the end of the Jewish holiday season, and has attracted more than 60,000 supporters for his campaign on Facebook FB.O over the past two weeks.
The finance ministry and central bank support reopening offices of companies that can avoid face-to-face contact with customers, or employ less than 10 workers – highlighting growing tensions over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic, which is set to see Israel’s economy shrink this year for the first time in nearly two decades.
“The economy is breaking down, people’s hope is breaking down,” said Barelko, speaking in the Tel Aviv restaurant he runs, now empty of customers. “If the government does not give us the opportunity to live and to provide for our families, we’ll do it ourselves.”
Thousands of people have taken to the streets across Israel for almost daily protests that have built up since July, demanding Netanyahu resign over his handling of the crisis and over corruption charges he faces in court, which he denies.
The country, with a population of nine million, has reported nearly 280,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 1,800 deaths.
Schools and most offices, shops and restaurants are closed, unless they provide “vital services” such as supermarkets, pharmacies and banks, and people