Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90
The Malha Mall in Jerusalem (illustration image).

A number of shopping centers in Israel operated on Shabbat in violation of the restrictions banning them from serving customers from Friday evening to Sunday morning. Shopping centers remained open in Eilat, Bilu Junction, Nazareth, Yarka, and Hutsot Hamifratz in Haifa, among others. Police for the most part gave warnings but avoided hitting businesses with the NIS 5,000 (roughly $1,500) fine. Police did verify that owners, staff and customers wore face masks and adhered to social distancing.

Orly Schaferber, director of the Fox Home store at the Bilu mall, told News 13: “There is no reliable government consideration about opening stores on Shabbat. Most of the population has free time on Shabbat to go out with the children and families, walk around to shop.”

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Tzachi Wiener, owner of a pet store in the Bilu mall, added: “The decision was not to open the mall because religious institutions were not allowed to open. There’s a lot of work, and Saturday’s income also feeds the middle of the week.”

However, according to a Kan 11 report Saturday night, customers voted with their legs this Shabbat and traffic was mostly scarce in the “rebel” malls..

Starting Friday at 5 PM, the restrictions went into force, banning the shopping centers around the country, despite opposition from the Health Ministry and many members of the Corona Cabinet. The restrictions will end Sunday at 5 AM.

The newly appointed Coronavirus Czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu announced Friday that he is considering making changes in these closure regulations but “the way to do this does not go through a series of hasty decisions and ad-libbing,” as he put it.

That could pose a problem, since Israeli decision making is often hasty ad-libbing, “iltur” (improvising) in the local lingo. It’s how Israelis fight wars, pass laws and, naturally, conduct public health policy. But Czar Gamzu insisted: “The genuine desire to assist and carry out the necessary corrections and changes cannot be realized in the form of hasty and spontaneous decisions,” he stated.

“The only way to provide a correct, professional and appropriate response to the Israeli public requires consideration, examination of alternatives and an orderly presentation of the decisions to the public, while being fully transparent and explaining the meaning of each move.”

This would be welcomed by an Israeli public that’s been going crazy hearing new rules, then, the next day, the opposite rules. Such a zigzagging policy has ruined many a business this past four months, with employees being let go and re-hired, and stock being purchased and dumped as the government’s whim.

“The limitations in the various sectors of the economy do not reflect a series of needs and specific problems, but should express an overall strategy, which involves the mutual effects and all aspects derived from them, both in the health, economic and social spheres,” Gamzu added.

Health Ministry Director General Prof. Hezi Levy told Kan 11 on Friday: “We have made a professional recommendation (to keep malls open on Shabbat – DI). It was raised by the Health Ministry and for reasons of the debate (at the cabinet – DI) it was not accepted. I reserve the right to be the professional echelon, and not part of the ministerial debate.”

Yesterday morning, the cabinet refused to poll ministers over the phone over canceling the Shabbat restrictions. Many ministers, and, naturally, hundreds of business owners, failed to understand why the coronavirus which does not cause store closures during the week becomes so ominous on Saturdays.

“The failure to lift restrictions is only for political reasons,” senior members of the political establishment argued on Friday, protesting that “business owners are taken hostage regardless of the heavy losses they incur.”

The source of the controversy in the government were the Haredi parties’ complaints that while the Health Ministry’s regulations are leaving large sectors of the public open, synagogues are forced to operate in a limited way. According to leaks from the cabinet meeting on Thursday, the Haredim refused to allow the opening of shopping centers on Shabbat and pushed for the debate to be postponed until Monday.

Chairwoman of the Knesset Corona Committee, MK Yifat Shasha Biton (Likud), asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reconsider the Shabbat closure. “The Corona Committee already recommended last week avoiding closure on weekends and allowing full activity according to the guidelines and restrictions,” Shasha Biton wrote the prime minister.

“Today there is a consensus in the government to lift the trade closure over the weekend. For reasons that are not clear, the vote in the government has been postponed to Monday. Business owners who are already having a hard time making a living these days will have to incur additional heavy losses, even though you also agree that closing them down is neither necessary nor helpful,” she wrote.

The committees chairwoman asked Netanyahu to “act as soon as possible and immediately lift the restrictions in order to help the business owners who are already having difficulties and alleviate them. There are businesses for whom being shut down even just this weekend, could mean a fatal blow,” she pleaded.

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