Open for business (except on Shabbat)
Hebrew media review

Open for business (except on Shabbat)

Tales of furniture store corruption and tax reform to help shoppers tangle with uncertainty over the mini-market law in Tuesday’s papers

Illustrative image of a man walking in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market in the evening, July 27, 2016. (Zack Wajsgras/Flash90)
Illustrative image of a man walking in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market in the evening, July 27, 2016. (Zack Wajsgras/Flash90)

The ultra-Orthodox world became a little less pragmatic in the early hours of Tuesday morning, but Israel’s main newspapers carry only a hint of the likely shift to more extreme attitudes, being sent to the publisher hours before the death of Rabbi Aharon Yehudah Leib Steinman and as a fight over the so-called minimarkets law on the closing of shops on Shabbat still raged.

Still, with Shas leader Aryeh Deri threatening to quit the coalition should his pet law giving him control over what minimarkets can stay open on the Jewish day of rest not pass, there was still enough drama for the story to rise to the top of the news agenda, even before it passed on first reading sometime in the middle of the night.

The coverage doesn’t quite focus on Deri, though, but rather on the opposition to the law threatening to sink it (and Deri).

Haaretz leads off its edition with the story, but all it can offer is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was working hard during the night to “pressure members of Likud and the coalition who had expressed opposition to the rule — against coalition discipline.”

Israel Hayom’s headline takes note of what it calls a “stormy debate” over the law, though the actual stormy debate was not held until after the paper went to bed. Yet it plays up the uncertainty with which it lay its head against the pillow Monday night, noting that “it was unclear until the last moment whether the minimarket law would have the needed majority to pass,” noting that even with Yisrael Beytenu likely to vote for it through gritted teeth, opposition by an MK each from Likud and Kulanu and a Shas MK taking a sick day could still leave it short of a majority.

Yedioth Ahronoth, under the headline “Minimarket or bust” (it sounds slightly better in Hebrew) gives some space to the actual complaints over the law, which the paper says extend well beyond just a couple of rogue MKs.

“Many MKs claimed behind closed doors that the law has at its heart religious coercion and gross meddling in the lives of secular residents who just want to shop on their day off.”

Haaretz op-ed columnist B. Michael doesn’t bother with closed doors to express biting sarcasm over the law, writing that Palestinian pharmacies in Jerusalem are open on Shabbat, despite the racism of Israelis who refuse to see them, which gives him an elegant solution.

“It will work like this: Every minimarket owner will choose a goy, sell him his shop on Friday and buy it back after Shabbat. ‘Market goy’ will be the job, and the role will be like that of the ‘Hametz goy’ who buys leavened food before Passover. He’ll be the owner on Shabbat and the shop can keep its doors open,” he writes. As for the rule that markets owned by non-Jews can only open in areas where non-Jews make up at least 25 percent of the population, he responds with even more acerbic sarcasm, noting that “in Israel and its colonies, Jews are actually a minority … This may not be connected to stores or pharmacies but it’s still happy news. Jews are not very successful at being the majority. So mazal tov.”

Michael’s acidic take isn’t the only place where a mazal tov can turn into a bad thing, with papers also playing up coverage of allegations that coalition chief David Bitan paid for his daughter’s wedding with NIS 250,000 of someone else’s money.

Yedioth’s front page is emblazoned with the words “Corruption wedding,” recounting suspicions that the owner of a furniture store Bitan used as a “bank” paid for the “beautiful wedding,” in the paper’s words.

“An especially generous gift?” reads the tabloid’s sarcastic lede, which focuses both on the wedding — which was attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other bigwigs — and on a recording of Bitan and furniture store owner Moshe Yosef published by Channel 10, which the paper says police believe will incriminate the lawmaker.

“In the recording, Yosef is heard telling Bitan ‘I brought you the $1,500 you asked for.’ Bitan answers him, ‘Thanks, how much does it come out to in in shekels?’ ‘5,600 or ,700 or something like that,’ Yosef says, and Bitan answers ‘round it to 6,000 and bring me.’”

In actuality, the exchange would have given Bitan close to NIS 5,400 on a good day, but at least Yosef’s math skills weren’t poor enough to give Bitan NIS 800,000,000, which is the figure gracing Israel Hayom’s front page, heralding an excise tax reform meant to save consumers that much.

The paper goes through many of the items that will no longer be taxed as part of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s sweeping economic reform, mostly consumer electronics, clothes and sporting goods, just in time for Hanukkah, which starts Tuesday night.

Given the paper’s closeness with Netanyahu, who never saw a tax drop he did not like (though it’s not clear how the treasury will make up the loss of revenue) it’s no surprise it decides to play up the news, along with a column by one Eran Bar-tal calling the reform “the right move.”

Yet another financial columnist, Moti Tochfeld, though, claims to see right through to Kahlon’s endgame — gaining a few popularity points for the next time elections come up.

“He pulled a grandiose economic plan out of a hat, presented it while the prime minister is abroad so that everyone knows whom to credit for it, and stood by smiling as economic and political pundits bombarded the airwaves immediately after he stepped off the stage,” he writes, noting that it’s thanks to Netanyahu and Bitan that there is so much instability, leading to sweetheart deals like this. “It’s not that Kahlon believes there will be elections tomorrow morning, but in recent months his working assumption has been that the coalition can disintegrate at a moment’s notice. That is why he has been putting up billboards across the country, and why he presented an unusually broad economic plan. Even when opposition lawmakers attack him and accuse him of populism, no one actually cares, not when the monthly pay slip keeps growing and consumer goods keep getting cheaper.”

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