Coalition said struggling to muster majority for Shabbat bill

David Amsalem fails to persuade ultra-Orthodox parties to exclude kiosks from legislation to shutter minimarkets on Jewish day of rest — report

Illustrative: A City Market store in Jerusalem's Cinema City, seen on January 31, 2017. (Sebi Berens/Flash90)
Illustrative: A City Market store in Jerusalem's Cinema City, seen on January 31, 2017. (Sebi Berens/Flash90)

Coalition chairman David Amsalem was encountering difficulties on Sunday in mustering a majority for a bill that would shutter minimarkets on Saturdays, according to Israel Radio.

Amid growing opposition to the proposed legislation, scheduled for its final votes on Monday evening, Amsalem attempted to convince ultra-Orthodox lawmakers to exclude some kiosks from the proposal and allow them to remain open on the Jewish holy day.

Amsalem said he could guarantee a majority if the ultra-Orthodox parties agreed to exempt kiosks from the legislation. The lawmakers reportedly refused, saying that they would take the matter to their rabbis to make the final decision.

In an interview with Channel 10 news, opposition whip Yoel Hasson said that, in addition to opposition from the coalition Yisrael Beytenu party, he was in contact with other coalition members who were going to abstain from approving the legislation or vote against it.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg tweeted that the fact that the ultra-Orthodox rabbis refused to listen to the coalition chair and instead went to their rabbis showed that the extent of the crisis within the coalition, and called for new elections.

The bill, sponsored by Aryeh Deri of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, passed its first reading earlier this month, despite opposition from the coalition Yisrael Beytenu party — as well as Likud MKs Yehudah Glick and Sharren Haskel, and Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria.

The bill came on the heels of a crisis between the government and its ultra-Orthodox coalition partners that saw UTJ’s Yaakov Litzman resign as health minister last month over train maintenance conducted on Shabbat.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly reached a deal with the ultra-Orthodox parties under which the government will propose laws maintaining the status quo with regard to Shabbat observance in Israel.

The bill would grant the Interior Ministry the power to oversee and reject local ordinances relating to whether business may remain open on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest that runs from Friday evening through till Saturday night.

Though the bill would make an exception for mostly secular Tel Aviv, it could lead to stores in other places being forced to shut down for the Jewish day of rest. The measure came after the High Court upheld Tel Aviv’s right to allow markets to stay open on Shabbat.

Deri’s bill excludes restaurants, cafes, and bars, as well as theaters, concert halls, and other sites of entertainment. Other businesses, however, would be subject to his determination that remaining open on Saturdays was “essential.”

“With the help of God, the minimarkets bill won’t pass,” Liberman quipped earlier this month at the Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting, referring to Deri’s proposal. “I am in favor of Jewish tradition, I am in favor of Jewish values, and I strongly oppose religious coercion.”

Israeli law forbids businesses from operating during the Jewish day of rest, with exceptions including places of entertainment, restaurants and basic services such as pharmacies, as well as work that cannot be performed at other times.

Tel Aviv, home to a mostly secular population, has sought to widen the scope of businesses allowed to be open on Shabbat, while ultra-Orthodox political factions have sought to add restrictions and toughen enforcement of Shabbat laws.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed