New panel to address Israelis’ economic burden


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will form a ministerial committee to address the country’s economic challenges.

In the wake of massive protests across Israel, Netanyahu on Sunday said he would appoint a special team of ministers and experts to listen to representatives of the protesters and to submit a plan "to alleviate Israelis’ economic burden."

"We are all aware of the genuine hardship of the cost of living in Israel," Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the regular weekly Cabinet meeting. "This affects many areas.  Some of the claims that are being heard are justified and some are not. Indeed, we must deal with the genuine distress, seriously and responsibly. This, without a doubt, compels us to change our list of priorities."

The prime minister also said that "We must avoid irresponsible, hasty and populist steps that are liable to cause the country to deteriorate into the situation of certain European countries, which are on the verge of bankruptcy and large-scale unemployment."

The announcement came hours after the resignation of the Finance Ministry’s director general, Haim Shani, who cited a "fundamental difference of opinion" with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. It is rumored that Steinitz could lose his job over the protests that are sweeping the country.

On Saturday night, more than 100,000 Israelis protested against the high cost of living in cities across Israel, with the largest demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beersheba and Haifa. It was the largest turnout for the populist protests since they began about two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, activists reportedly are planning a general strike for Monday.

Knesset members from both the ruling and opposition coalitions have called for canceling the parliament’s summer recess to deal with the social protests. The Knesset is scheduled to begin its summer recess next week through the end of October.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said over the weekend that he would call a vote on a proposal by Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the Shas Party to nix the recess in order to create legislation to answer the protests.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, head of the Kadima Party, supported the move.

"Fixing what is happening on the streets," she said, "has to be done through the Knesset."


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