Photo Credit: Courtesy, the Knesset
The Knesset plenum in an uproar

(JNi.media) A heated debate erupted in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday over a bill to ban commercial activity on Shabbat, despite an earlier agreement to postpone the vote to a later date.

The bill, introduced by MK Miki Zohar (Likud), would ban all commercial activity on Shabbat, apart from restaurants, bars, places of public entertainment, gas stations and pharmacies—which must apply for permission from the economy minister.

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While presenting the bill to the Plenum, MK Zohar said “this law is a Jewish social law, but without the claim that this is a law of religious coercion, why would all the socialists vote against it? We know that the Tel Avivian public supported the Zionist Camp, and the Tel Avivian public has a problem with my law. The Zionist Camp is afraid of [Tel Aviv Mayor] Ron Huldai and is abandoning the values of socialism to gain the votes of Tel Aviv’s residents.”

“We will protect the weaker businesses. Where is your enlightened socialism? Where did it disappear to? Tel Aviv has repeatedly forgotten the Jewish idea… This country will forever remain a Jewish and democratic country, and as such, it obligates us to observe one day of rest a week, and that will be on Shabbat, whether you want it or not. Call me a dark and messianic person who forces religion on people – I will continue along my path faithfully until the end. My victory is the victory of the Israeli people,” he added.

Zohar’s remarks caused an uproar among members of the opposition, and MKs Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid), Yoel Hasson (Zionist Camp), Michal Rozin (Meretz), Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid) and Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Camp) were ejected from the hall after being called to order a number of times.

In the current situation, despite sanctioning Shabbat as the day of rest in the Law of Hours of Work and Rest (1951) and similar legislation, the day’s special status is violated widely, especially by vendors, while enforcement has been completely eroded, according to the bill’s author. The new bill prohibits shopping malls, for example, from staying open on Shabbat, barring specific appeals to the economy minister.

Under the bill, opening a business on Shabbat will constitute a civil offense, and business owners would be able to sue peer businesses that operate on Shabbat for damages incurred by the illegal competition. Violating the new law could result in a minimum fine of about $1,000, as well as a prison sentence of up to one year. In addition, conditioning rental or work contracts on Shabbat work will be prohibited, and it will not be possible to compel a business owner to work on Shabbat as a condition of renting space in a shopping mall, nor will the mall be allowed to fine such an individual for staying closed on Shabbat.

The accompanying notes to the bill state that the lack of enforcement has led to the formation of “enclaves,” particularly in Tel Aviv, where the “rest laws” are ignored completely. “The increasing violations of the law stem from the narrow economic interests of commercial elements, and the lack of proper enforcement,” say the notes. “This reality has a devastating effect on the values which the weekly day of rest seeks to protect, as well as on the rule of law and the public’s trust in the law.”

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