After several years in which Israel’s coalition governments have not been rocked by battles over the status of Shabbat, the past two weeks have seen a possible reemergence of those old barricades, with both secular and religious politicians mouthing predictable platitudes about holiness and tradition vs. freedom and rights. In that context it should be noted that until Tuesday this week the Haredi parties did not look particularly eager to return to those tiresome confrontations, seeing as they had turned a blind eye for ten years on Shabbat works carried out by the Ministry of Transport, until the same ministry, intentionally or due to political myopia, made public its intentions to conduct massive works on Shabbat, complete with blocking off many of Tel Aviv’s vital traffic arteries.
Now Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) has launched his own campaign in an attempt to torpedo the recommendations of a committee of experts that examined the Tel Aviv municipality’s bylaw which permits operating businesses in the city on Shabbat. Deri is advancing legislation to impose a sweeping ban on all businesses in Tel Aviv, including newsstands and kiosks, with the exception of three open air malls: Tel Aviv Harbor, Jaffa Harbor, and HaTachana Mall in Jaffa. The bill will also permit keeping open convenience store attached to gas stations.
The commission of directors of government ministries that was appointed to look at the Tel Aviv municipal bylaw will submit its findings sometime this September, and according to leaks in Israel’s media, those will include three recommendations: the first one recommends accepting a new bylaw crafted by the Tel Aviv municipality allowing 160 businesses to operate on Shabbat; the second recommends reducing the number of businesses currently permitted to operate by 20%; and the third recommendation, proposed by former Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, to designate specific areas where businesses are permitted to stay open on Shabbat.
Once the committee recommendations are delivered, and the new Tel Aviv bylaw goes into effect, Interior Minister Deri will have 60 days to respond, after which the new law stays. Deri apparently plans to fight all three recommendations, even at the cost of eroding the Netanyahu coalition, and his staff has also been instructed to craft an atomic solution, to be used only if the coalition is certain to collapse, declaring Shabbat as the day of rest for all of Israel and barring everything that moves from doing it on Shabbat.