Rehovot residents protest after police repeatedly shut McDonald’s on Shabbat

Locals say newly opened restaurant is being targeted for selective enforcement, but city maintains it’s maintaining status quo given fast food joint’s location

Kosher McDonald's restaurant in Ashkelon, Israel. (Creative Commons via JTA)
Kosher McDonald's restaurant in Ashkelon, Israel. (Creative Commons via JTA)

Secular residents of the central Israel city of Rehovot protested on Saturday after authorities issued a citation to a newly opened McDonald’s for operating on Shabbat, the latest in a series of actions against the fast food location.

Police arrived at the eatery on Saturday afternoon and ordered that it close immediately and pay a fine of NIS 730, according to Hebrew news site Ynet.

A crowd of about a hundred people — patrons along with protesters who showed up after the order to close was given — gathered at the restaurant to demonstrate against what they say is selective enforcement of laws proscribing business on the Jewish day of rest.

Enforcement of laws regarding work on Shabbat is an ongoing issue of contention in Israel, against the backdrop of broader disagreement over the relationship between religion and state. Municipal and national laws often differ, sometimes leading to conflict between city authorities and the national government, as well as local discord.

Rehovot, with a population of about 150,000, is a mixed city with religious and secular residents. A city bylaw permits certain businesses to operate on Shabbat.

The municipality maintains it is operating in accordance with “the status quo, which the city has been accustomed to for decades.”

Some protesters, however, accused the newly elected mayor, Matan Dil, of attempting to upend the existing order.

“The previous mayor, Rahamim Malul, a Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] man, didn’t dare to touch businesses that were open on Shabbat,” one protester told Ynet.

Secular protesters shout slogans in Jerusalem on August 12, 2017, during a demonstration of ultra-Orthodox Jews against businesses that operate on Saturdays in the city. The slogan, which rhymes in Hebrew, says, ‘We’re not against the Sabbath, we’re against religious pressure.’ (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )

Among those patronizing McDonald’s on Saturday was Yaniv Markovich, who ran against Dil in the recent elections, and now serves as head of the opposition in the city council.

Markovich noted that the McDonald’s had been visited by cops every weekend since it opened a month and a half ago.

They “don’t allow this business, or the residents who want to enjoy it on weekends, to operate,” he said, reporting that the fast food restaurant had already received five citations.

Critics of the McDonald’s closures point to the Rehovot HaHolandit neighborhood, in which a number of businesses are open, as proof of the double standard.

In that neighborhood, “there’s a mall that’s open on Shabbat, with shops to get ice cream and food, and no one enforces the law,” said one resident, speaking to the news site Gal Gefen.

But that mall, said the city, is located in an industrial park, and is thus subject to different rules than the McDonald’s, which is in a residential area.

An aerial view of the city of Rehovot, on June 30, 2017. (Gidi Avinary/Flash90)

“We aren’t talking about selective enforcement but rather strict adherence to the law,” the municipality told Gal Gefen. “Any attempt to attribute other motives to the municipality is baseless and will be rejected outright.”

No comment from McDonald’s was immediately available.

Markovich insisted he was not trying to stir up religious-secular tensions, but was interested in the laws being implemented fairly

“We have here an unambiguous case of selective enforcement by the city of Rehovot, which is choosing one specific business,” he charged, “while other businesses operate and no one bothers them.”

Markovich hopes that someone in the city government will address the problem, he said, but vowed that if the citations continue, “we will be here every Shabbat.”

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