Over 1,000 people protest Shabbat store closures in Ashdod

Some call for Mayor Yehiel Lasri to resign for stepping up enforcement of bylaw preventing businesses from opening on day of rest

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)

For the third week in a row, over a thousand protesters gathered on Saturday in front of the Ashdod city hall to demonstrate against the closure of businesses in the city on Shabbat.

A smaller protest took place in the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan.

The Knesset earlier this month 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, Ashdod municipality has stepped up its enforcement of its own bylaw preventing businesses from opening on Shabbat, with the municipality publishing a “help wanted” ad for Shabbat inspectors earlier this week.

Israelis hold signs during a demonstration against religious coercion in Ramat Gan, January 27, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Some of the protesters called for Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri to resign due to his role in the increased enforcement of the law, Ynet reported.

Critics of the Knesset legislation decried the religious decree, while proponents of the law said it was necessary to maintain the longstanding status quo in Israel regarding businesses operating on Shabbat.

Ashdod, which has a large number of residents from the former Soviet Union, has seen an increase in the city’s ultra-Orthodox population in recent years, leading to political tensions between the two groups over issues pertaining to religious observance.

Last Saturday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman visited an open shopping area in the city.

His Yisrael Beytenu party, whose supporters include a large number of secular Israelis from the former Soviet Union, opposed the mini-market law, despite being in the coalition.

Later that night, Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party has long campaigned against religious coercion in the public sphere, joined the weekly rally in a show of support for the protesters and called for the mini-markets law to be nixed.

Lapid said he would cancel the law if his party wins the next elections. Recent polls have put Yesh Atid neck-and-neck with the ruling Likud party.

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