Shas backtracks on scheme to make sick minister resign ahead of Shabbat vote
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Shas backtracks on scheme to make sick minister resign ahead of Shabbat vote

With key ballot on closing mini-markets on Shabbat coming up, the religious party was worried hospitalized David Azoulay would not be able to make it to the vote

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Shas MK David Azoulay during a Knesset committee meeting. February 13, 2013. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Shas MK David Azoulay during a Knesset committee meeting. February 13, 2013. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party said Thursday evening that Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay would not be resigning from the Knesset, reneging on a plan that would have seen him give up his seat in a bid to help the coalition pass a bill to shutter shops and convenience stores on Shabbat.

Earlier Thursday, the party revealed its latest strategy to secure a majority in the controversial vote by having Azoulay step down as a Knesset member — but remain a minister — and giving the seat to his son Yinon Azoulay.

Azoulay senior has been hospitalized for the past week and his absence, along with that of recently widowed MK Yehudah Glick (Likud) and the opposition of the Yisrael Beytenu party, has put the so-called mini-markets bill in peril.

Before cancelling the plan, Shas had said that Azoulay would resign under the “Norwegian law” which allows ministers give up their seat in the Knesset while retaining their government post, and return to serve in the parliament in the event that they lose their ministerial position — for example, if the government falls. According to the plan, two veteran party members would have given up their places ahead of Yinon Azoulay on the electoral list in order to allow him to take his father’s seat.

But David Azoulay, who only heard of the scheme from media reports, said that there was no need for him to resign as he would be out of hospital by Monday when the vote will take place.

The bill, sponsored by Shas leader and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, would grant the 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 till Saturday night. The measure came after the High Court upheld Tel Aviv’s right to allow markets to stay open on Shabbat.

Two young girls eat ice cream as they leave a mini market in Jerusalem, August 2, 2010. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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, the Jewish day of rest that runs from Friday evening through Saturday night.

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.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri leads his Shas faction meeting at the Knesset, January 1, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

But Shas has so far struggled to secure the votes it needs to pass the “mini-markets bill.”

Last month, Yisrael Beytenu faction chairman MK Robert Ilatov said that any attempt to bring the bill to a vote would be opposed by Yisrael Beytenu’s five lawmakers in the Knesset.

With the vote originally planned for Monday this week, Deri even tried to get Glick to come to the Knesset hours after the death of his wife.

Responding to criticism over the move, Deri confirmed that he had contacted the head of the Har Hevron Regional Council to ask him to check with the rabbi of Otniel, the West Bank settlement where Glick lives, “whether Jewish law could allow for Glick to leave the shiva in order to vote.” Shiva is a seven-day mourning period after a Jewish funeral, which a person whose direct relative has died spends at home receiving visitors who offer condolences.

Only once the rabbi said that Glick could not attend did Deri agree to postpone the vote until next week.

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