Shabbat wars flare up at the Knesset
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Next week the Knesset is expected to vote on the highly contentious “Markets’ Bill”, which is intended to further empower Rabbi Deri, Minister of Interior and leader of Shas, to nullify municipal ordinances that allow the opening of some markets and convenience stores on Shabbat. This comes after a protracted public and political debate, following a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Tel Aviv municipal ordinance permitting the opening of a limited number of such stores in prescribed locations on Shabbat, much to the chagrin of the ultra-Orthodox parties. Deri and his Ashkenazi counterparts have threatened to bring down the government if the law is not amended in order to block such violations of the religious Shabbat laws.
Hiddush sent all members of the Knesset a strong message relating to the continued surrender of the country’s political leadership to the whims, threats and theocratic pressures of the ultra-Orthodox parties, against both public interest and will. We outlined a number of compelling findings of public opinion surveys we conducted on multiple aspects of Sabbath legislation and policies (for details click here). Some of our findings were quoted at the special hearing held last week in the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee.
The public outcry as well as strong reservations expressed by Minister of Defense Lieberman and others from his Yisrael Beitenu party (of Jews from the FSU) and a handful of other MKs from the Coalition, and the realization that such legislation is quickly translated into increased popular support for the Yesh Atid opposition party (which is identified with a religious freedom agenda) brought about some second thoughts on the part of Likud leaders. They also saw with concern a rapid response by a number of City Councils that rushed into passing new ordinances allowing for stores to be opened on Sabbath, and realized that there will be a political price to be paid for the pending Knesset legislation later this year when municipal elections will be held throughout the county
Sensing the political fallout, ahead of a vote at the Committee, coalition and committee chairman MK David Amsalem (Likud) submitted three new reservations to the bill: It would serve as a temporary provision and be limited to five years; it would not apply to free trade areas (specifically the tax-free city of Eilat); and it would not include convenience stores at gas stations.
The committee voted to adopt two of Amsalem's reservations to exclude convenience stores at gas stations and in Eilat from the bill. It then approved the bill for a Knesset vote. But hours later, the previous version of the legislation—which does include convenience stores under the bill's purview—was approved after objections and pressure from the ulta-Orthodox parties. Amsalem et al demand that the Committee vote again on these reservations, while ultra-Orthodox MK Eichler is protesting to make the Bill retroactive so that it would apply also to the Tel Aviv stores operating on Shabbat, which were “legitimized” by the Court. What the future holds in store remains to be see, but clearly the next few days are going to generate great political heat, in clear contrast to the plummeting temperatures outside.
The issues surrounding Shabbat in Israel's public sphere are indeed complex and worthy of serious public discourse. Shaping of a new policy is indeed necessary, but this is not what is being proposed at this time. Rather, this is a Pavlovian surrender by the Government Coalition, which avoids dealing with the complex issue of Shabbat on their merits, but is primarily motivated by its concern over the continued support of the ultra-Orthodox parties for the narrow Coalition.
It is clear that social and moral considerations are not guiding the Government's legislative and policy initiatives on Shabbat. Rather, the Government is bowing to pressure from Israel's ultra-Orthodox political parties, which aspire to turn Israel into a theocracy! Laws motivated by this dangerous approach undermine the State of Israel, erode civil liberties, and erode the public's trust in the democratic process.
The Hiddush report, sent to all Knesset members last week, highlights the views of the Jewish Israeli public. The conclusion is clear: Those Knesset members who vote in favor of the “Markets’ Bill”, who recently voted to include “Jewish Tradition” as an independent consideration for refusing work permits on Shabbat according to the Hours of Work and Rest Law, who seek to block the essential maintenance work of Israel's railways and prevent public transportation on the Sabbath, etc., etc. - are acting against the will of the great majority of the public and against the will of their own voters.
READ THE REPORT