The leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party lauded Tuesday’s passage of a contentious bill to keep stores closed on the Jewish Sabbath as a victory for “the silent majority.” Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers attacked the move as a political maneuver designed to keep Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in power, with the leader of the left-wing Meretz party announcing her intention to petition the High Court against the new law.
The so-called mini-markets bill passed by 58 to 57 votes in its second and third readings following a 15-hour opposition filibuster.
The law grants the interior minister, currently Shas head Aryeh Deri, the power to oversee and reject local ordinances relating to whether businesses may remain open on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest that runs from Friday evening until Saturday night.
Deri took to Twitter after the vote to say that the law’s passage was “not a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) victory” but rather protected the status quo regarding Shabbat and represented “the victory of the silent majority in the State of Israel, which wants a continuation of the Jewish character of the state and is interested in resting on the day of rest.”
Coalition whip David Amsalem (Likud) said on Facebook that the government had committed itself to the legislation during coalition negotiations “and still, the holiness of Shabbat is important to us no less than to others.
“There’s no reason to panic,” he continued, “and after this law is implemented, people will see that it’s not so bad and that it mainly preserves the status quo in every city.”
But Knesset opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) attacked the law as “another brick that the coalition is removing from the nation’s wall, threatening to bring the entire ceiling down upon all of us.”
He charged that the law was actually detrimental to Shabbat observance because it had driven many communities to demonstrate, by means of new ordinances, their desire to keep stores open on the day of rest before the law was passed.
Avigdor Liberman, leader of the coalition Yisrael Beytenu party, tweeted that the law’s passage was “a pity” and that Judaism and Jewish tradition had no connection to religious coercion.
“A law like this, instead of bringing people closer to Judaism, only distances [them] from it,” he added.
In the final vote, four of Yisrael Beytenu’s five MKs voted against the measure, with Immigration Minister Sofa Landver, apparently not wishing to risk losing her ministerial post by voting against the government, sitting out the ballot.
Meretz leader Zehava Galon said that she would petition the High Court of Justice against the law.
“This law impinges on the basic rights of every citizen in the country for the sake of the political survival of the Netanyahu government,” she tweeted. “They think we’ve let it pass quietly. They’re wrong.”
Referring to Jewish religious law, Ron Huldai, mayor of Tel Aviv, said, “We are moving toward a halacha state. It’s time that Likud people understood this as well.”
The law will not affect Tel Aviv, which Israel’s High Court recently ruled could pass its own bylaws to govern which stores may remain open on Shabbat.
Some coalition lawmakers had hoped to also include an exemption for the tourist city of Eilat, but the proposal was rejected by the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties.
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