The Jerusalem municipality announced Tuesday that it will restart its policy of fining mini-markets which remain open on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, bringing to an end a two-month lull in enforcement in the wake of a High Court of Justice petition against the practice.
In a response to the petition, the municipality said that data provided in the petition “not only was not accurate, but is far from the reality,” the local Hebrew-language Mynet website reported.
According to the report, the municipality told the court in its response that the stores are in areas where there are over 100 synagogues and religious institutes, whereas the petition had claimed there were fewer than ten.
As a result, the municipal legal adviser decided to reintroduce the fines, the report said.
A group of store owners represented by Yossi Havilio, a former city attorney now running as a mayoral candidate in the upcoming municipal elections, filed the petition against the fines last year.
The issue of ultra-Orthodox influence over daily life in Jerusalem has been a hot-button issue for years, with some fearing it would lead to the increased closure of stores and leisure venues on Shabbat or other restrictions. Current mayor Nir Barkat ran on a secularist platform when he took over from ultra-Orthodox mayor Uri Lupoliansky in 2008.
During June deliberations held at the Administrative Affairs court, the municipality had agreed to suspend the fines for 60 days and Havilio agreed to withdraw the petition.
Havilio on Tuesday responded to city hall’s notification by saying in a statement that it would drive more secular people from the city.
“This step is not intended to preserve the delicate fabric [of the city]; rather, it is entirely political,” Havilio said. “Instead of preserving Jerusalem as open and pluralistic it will cause it to be closed and secluded. Today, the secular are already leaving the city and they will leave in even higher numbers.”
The Jerusalem municipality accused Havilio of using the mini-market dispute as campaign fodder.
“There is no change and nothing new in the municipal policy,” the city hall said in a statement reported by Hadashot TV news. “To our regret, attorney Havilio continues to use legal proceedings as part of his election campaign.”
On Monday the local branch of the national-religious Jewish Home party drew wide criticism after it published posters warning of ultra-Orthodox influence in city hall by photoshopping Haredi garb on three mayoral candidates.
Among those to condemn the posters as anti-ultra-Orthodox was the headquarters of the party.
Representing some 37% of the Jewish population of Jerusalem, according to recent CBS data, the ultra-Orthodox may hold the key to the city. Because the city’s Arab residents generally boycott the municipal elections, the voter share of the ultra-Orthodox, who often vote as a bloc, is even higher.
The topic of mini-markets operating on Shabbat is a matter of serious contention across the country. Religious status quo is a fragile combination of national legislation and municipal bylaws, shaped over several decades, and it is supposed to strike a balance between the needs of Israel’s religious and secular communities.
On Sunday the Kan public broadcaster reported that five cities were planning to appeal to the High Court of Justice against an Interior Ministry decision to annul their municipal bylaws permitting mini-markets to remain open.
Under the so-called “mini-markets law,” passed earlier this year, the interior minister has the power to oversee and reject local ordinances relating to whether businesses may remain open on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest that runs from Friday evening until Saturday night.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party has reportedly rejected the five cities’ by-laws and explained that the municipalities did not show that the business need to be open on Shabbat.