Thousands of members of Israel’s entertainment industry convened in Tel Aviv Thursday night for a socially distanced protest calling on the government to provide desperately needed aid.
The event began with a laser light show depicting “150” in huge numbers inside a ticking clock, a reference to the 150,000 entertainment industry workers in the country. Tens of thousands have already lost their jobs, while many more are on unpaid leave. Following the light show, participants lined up to sign a wall-sized petition addressed to the prime minister.
While gatherings bans are in place in Israel, political protests are one of the exceptions to the rule providing protesters maintain distancing guidelines. Police were concerned, however, that some participants were not abiding to the restrictions Thursday night.
Singer Aviv Geffen, one of the protest organizers, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet with him to discuss the crisis. “There is a disaster happening,” Geffen said during a speech at the protest. “People can’t endure it, and the noose is tightening around their necks.”
The petition calls for a series of measures to ease the financial strain on both the industry and its workers.
These include compensation payments and loan assistance for organizations and individuals, allowing the self-employed to file for unemployment and a significant reduction in tax payments for those affected. It has been signed by some of Israel’s top performing artists, including singer David Broza, mentalist Lior Suchard, actor Ori Pfeffer (“Hacksaw Ridge”) and Eurovision Song Contest winner Netta Barzilai.
Earlier in the day, the Israeli Parliament’s Finance Committee held a hearing to address the crisis in the industry.
Filmmaker Avi Nesher (“The Other Story,” “Past Life”) told the hearing that “our world is on the verge of extinction.” He argued that “culture is not a luxury, but a global strategic asset.”
Yoni Feingold, chairman of the Union of Live Event Producers and Organizers, told the committee that the industry is suffering from a 47 billion shekel ($13 billion) shortage in income due to the coronavirus. “We are an industry equal to that of aviation and industry, and we should be treated as such.”
Just a few hours after the hearing, Netanyahu spoke with Culture Minister Miri Regev and instructed his office to draw up a framework plan to support the industry and its workers.
Hours ahead of the protest, the Tel Aviv Municipality announced it had established a 700,000 shekel ($200,000) fund to aid hundreds of artists in the city. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said the city has long been the center of culture in Israel. “Culture and art are essential to our spiritual existence,” he said, “therefore we must look after artistic creators (after the pandemic ends).”
The Television and Film Producers Association sent a letter on Wednesday to the director-general of the Health Ministry, requesting they be allowed to return to work under the ministry’s guidelines. Until now, the ministry has only allowed those in the hi-tech, manufacturing and service industries to return to work, limiting in-person work to 30% of the company’s workforce.