Ashdod retreats from crackdown against shopping centers open on Shabbat
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Ashdod retreats from crackdown against shopping centers open on Shabbat

After massive protests against moves to shut down malls on Saturday, mayor Yehiel Lasri says only shops in residential areas will be fined

Demonstrators protest against the closure of businesses on Shabbat in city of Ashdod, January 20, 2018. (Flash90)
Demonstrators protest against the closure of businesses on Shabbat in city of Ashdod, January 20, 2018. (Flash90)

Ashdod will stop issuing fines to businesses on the city’s outskirts that open on Shabbat, the city’s mayor said Wednesday.

Yehiel Lasri told the city council that instead, municipal employees will focus on fining and shuttering stores that violate the Jewish day of rest within the city’s residential areas close to religious neighborhoods and synagogues.

The coastal city drew widespread protests earlier this year when municipal officials began fining businesses in large shopping centers on the outskirts of town that opened on Shabbat.

The standoff quickly turned into a test case for changes to the status quo on the opening of businesses on the Sabbath in the wake of new Knesset legislation.

In January, the Knesset passed a law granting the interior minister the power to override city bylaws allowing mini-markets to open on the Jewish day of rest.

Coinciding with the law’s passage, the Ashdod municipality stepped up enforcement of its own bylaw preventing businesses from opening on Shabbat.

Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri. July 27, 2014. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Large businesses such as the Big Fashion mall are a magnet for secular families on the Sabbath, among them immigrants from the former Soviet Union who account for a significant part of Ashdod’s population.

Among the Knesset politicians who swept into Ashdod to take a stand on the issue was Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman whose secular Yisrael Beytenu party has a large following among Russian-speaking Israelis.

Lasri told the council that he took full responsibility for what he called the crisis of the past few months over Sabbath opening. It was important for religious and secular residents to be able to live together, in mutual respect, he said.

MK Tamar Zandberg of the left-wing Meretz Party declared Lasri’s decision “a great victory for the public.”

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg attends an Interior Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, November 30, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

She said, “We proved that when the public rears up on its hind legs and fights, it also wins. We won this battle and we’ll also win the battle for public transport on the Sabbath.”

However Hotem, a coalition of Orthodox groups, accused the mayor of capitulating to a “radical handful” of people and to “peripheral groups,” the Maariv newspaper reported. Harming the Sabbath harmed everyone, the organization said.

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