A team of small businesses and grocery store owners on Friday made the rounds to the grocery store chains AM:PM, Tiv Ta’am and Super Yudah in Tel Aviv, distributing mock violation notices to protest their continued opening on Shabbat.
The protest follows several weeks of tension and legal battles over whether and how grocery stores and kiosks would be allowed to remain open on Shabbat in the largely secular city.
In response to a petition by small businesses, the Supreme Court compelled the Tel Aviv Municipality to enforce laws on its books that prohibit opening on Shabbat.
The protesters said Tel Aviv was turning a blind eye to the rule-breaking groceries, so “took on the duties” of the city inspectors to hand out the mock tickets.
“We don’t believe the Tel Aviv Municipality’s claim that there are not enough inspectors to enforce the decision,” said Koby Bremer, one of the campaign’s leaders, adding, “Anyone who parks on Ibn Gvirol Street on the sidewalk gets their car towed in a short period of time.”
For years, the city simply handed out fines to stores that did, collecting extra municipal revenue and allowing the city residents access to groceries on Saturday.
Small grocery store owners, however, argued the arrangement put them at a disadvantage against big chains, who could more easily keep stores staffed on Saturday. Small business owners, they say, deserve a day off, too.
“We favor a free Tel Aviv – this city has always been free and open and it should stay that way, but this city cannot continue retail trade that so sweepingly and plainly robs me and my friends of the one free day in the week, which everyone in the city deserves,” said Bremer.
The municipality passed new bylaws on the issue in an attempt to compromise, but they have yet to be approved by Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar. To comply with the Supreme Court ruling, the municipality called 21 stores that had been served (real) violation notices three times before a local court on Thursday, expecting the court to order them to close on Saturday.
The court, however, ruled that they could stay open, prompting Friday’s small business protest.
Sa’ar, who rejected an earlier set of bylaws the city wrote to remedy the situation, has until mid-October to decide on the new bylaws, which would give 164 licenses, distributed on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood lottery, for stores to stay open on Shabbat.
Even if Sa’ar approves the bylaw, the number of licenses available is about a third fewer than the current number of grocery shops and kiosks that stay open on Shabbat.