Netanyahu delays Cyprus trip to vote on minimarkets law
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Netanyahu delays Cyprus trip to vote on minimarkets law

With coalition strapped for majority, PM to stay in country to help secure passage of controversial bill to shutter convenience stores on Shabbat

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 31, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 31, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has delayed an official trip to Cyprus scheduled for next week to attend the final Knesset votes on a law to shutter mini-markets on Shabbat.

The visit, originally set for Monday, will be rescheduled by the Foreign Ministry, according to reports.

According to the Ynet news website, the trilateral summit in Cyprus was to also include the Greek president.

The controversial Knesset legislation was scheduled for its second and third readings overnight Monday-Tuesday, but was shelved late Monday when it became apparent there was no majority to secure its passage into law.

Despite the initial refusal of ultra-Orthodox parties to delay the vote, coalition chairman David Amsalem had no choice but to do so after it became clear that the numbers were not in their favor, shelving the legislation for another week.

Earlier Monday, the opposition joined coalition party Yisrael Beytenu in refusing to have one lawmaker bow out of voting on the bill, saying it would not perform the traditional courtesy gesture to offset the absence of Likud MK Yehudah Glick, whose wife died hours earlier.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who is spearheading the bill, even sought to bring Glick from his wife’s funeral to vote on the bill, before it was postponed.

Even before Glick’s absence, the coalition struggled to muster a majority for the proposal, with the Likud MK among several coalition MKs — including the Yisrael Beytenu party, Likud MK Sharren Haskel, and Kulanu MKs Rachel Azaria, Tali Ploskov, and Merav Ben Ari — who expressed reservations or outright opposition to the bill.

The bill came on the heels of a crisis between the government and its ultra-Orthodox coalition partners that saw Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party resign as health minister last month over his opposition to train maintenance conducted on Shabbat.

Netanyahu quickly reached a deal with the ultra-Orthodox parties under which the government would 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 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.”

The government next Monday was also scheduled to vote on a proposal to allow Litzman to serve as a deputy minister in the Health Ministry without an overseeing minister. The proposal, which would circumvent a High Court ruling banning the practice, was part of the compromise reached between Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox parties.

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