Gideon Sa’ar is our interior minister.
As such, he is responsible for overseeing the Hours of Work and Rest Law, 1951. One aspect of the Jewish nature of the state is that its holidays are defined by the Jewish tradition. The Jewish festivals are recognized as holidays; schools and businesses are closed and people do not need to go to work. The weekly day of rest is Saturday.
For many years, in all of the Western World, Sunday was considered holy. Even today, in many European countries businesses are closed on this day. Especially in the United States, it was recognized that from a business point of view this absolute rest was wasteful. Since most people do not work, they have time to go shopping. As Ecclesiastes has stressed, money will answer everything, so the Americans relaxed the regulations.
Today, in the US you can go shopping everywhere on Saturdays and Sundays.
Many European countries followed the American example. Even in socially conservative countries such as Switzerland, numerous shops and stores are open on Sunday, especially in the heavily visited tourist areas.
There is a real dilemma here. On the one hand, the more business there is the lower the prices, and everyone gains. Many people do not have the time to take care of their household affairs during the week. It is during their leisure time that they can take a stroll in a shopping center, look at products, sip a cup of coffee, have the kids play in the shopping center playground and do the weekly shopping.
If that’s the good, what is the bad? As stressed often by Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, opening businesses on the day of rest is anti-social. Who are the people behind the counters, who are the waiters? Typically, they are not wealthy. They go to work on days of rest because they need the added income. What do their children do when their parents must work? Even if these same employees have a different day of rest during the week, as mandated by law in most countries, their family life is harmed. The children still have to go to school.
Shopkeepers are also affected. If some shops are open, then anyone who closes shop is under financial pressure. Either they lose clients or they have to work on the day of rest, harming their family life. The independent shopkeeper does not have even a day of rest during the week.
In Israel, this question also takes on a religious-historic aspect. One of the most difficult challenges to observant Jews over the millennia was the need to keep their businesses closed on Shabbat. In most places, up until the 20th century Shabbat was like any other day and only Sunday was the day of rest. So Jews had to close their shops two days a week and still survive.
One of the stated goals of Zionism was that a Jew would be able to live in the Jewish state without having to pay a price for the observance of Jewish tradition. For the Zionist founders of the state, it was obvious that this implied that Shabbat would be the day of rest, on which all businesses are closed.
But ideals and reality don’t always go together. The secular kibbutzim realized that they could legally open shopping centers on their land. This led to the creation of shopping centers all over Israel that are outside municipal borders, so that now Shabbat shopping has become to many a way of life. This is so especially in the Tel Aviv area.
What about the shopkeepers who would prefer to stay closed? Tough luck. They have to get used to the new order. Money is more important than values.
For many years, the Tel Aviv Municipality played a game. It allowed convenience stores and supermarkets to open on Shabbat, at times levying ridiculously small fines, and everyone was happy. That is, until some shopkeepers who were unhappy with the Shabbat competition went to the Supreme Court. The court ruled that the municipality was acting illegally and ordered it to change the municipal law. This was promptly enacted, allowing in effect almost anyone to open shop on Shabbat. In Israel, though, the interior minister oversees the municipality, and two weeks ago Sa’ar decided that the new law showed disrespect for Shabbat and annulled it. He did leave allowances for businesses in certain specified areas to remain open, such as in the Tel Aviv Harbor area.
It is at this point where the media started playing a role. Did it give Sa’ar a fair shake at explaining his motives? Did it present both sides? Some did, some did not. The Israel Broadcasting Authority did a fair job. On the TV Channel 1 nightly news of June 29, the item was related and the views of those for and against aired. On the next day, this balance was repeated on Kol Yisrael’s evening news program.
Galatz was also reasonable, bringing to its morning news program Nachon Lehaboker opposing views, albeit two opposing Sa’ar’s decision and only one in favor.
The record for Channel 2 TV is mixed. The Reshet programs We talk about this and Today’s Talk aired on June 30 presented a balanced view.
Channel 2 News was unprofessional, to put it mildly. On June 29, Yonit Levy “interviewed” Minister Sa’ar.
Not only did she not let the minister talk, she tried to give the impression that Sa’ar’s decision was motivated purely by desire to curry favor among the religious sector. She did not relate to the fact that the whole issue had been raised in the first place by Tel Aviv shopkeepers with their appeal to the Supreme Court. Sa’ar was followed by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), both of whom (naturally) opposed Sa’ar’s decision. Levy did not interrupt them.
The worst of all, though, was Channel 10. It opened this segment of the June 29 news broadcast with “The interior Minister who has lately started to observe Shabbat.” The London and Kirshenbaum June 30 program had a picture of Sa’ar dressed up in a shtreimel and sporting peyot, and presented only one side of the issue, namely that stores should remain open. The Hakol Kalul June 30 program headlined its treatment of the issue with, “Did Minister Gideon Sa’ar order the closing of the supermarkets because he is becoming more observant?” The innuendo was that Sa’ar is politically motivated, and that his main interest is the next Likud primary.
The Economic Night June 29 program was one-sided in its vociferous stand against Minister Sa’ar’s decision.
So, what have we got? The public broadcaster – on the cutting block just at the moment – did its job; fair, decent and balanced coverage.
Channel 2 TV was, on the whole, slanted against Sa’ar, although it remained within acceptable bounds of fairness in its coverage. Channel 10 TV was, as usual, unethical and unprofessional. It is high time that this channel, which is in daily violation of the law, be closed down. Not only on Gideon Sa’ar’s account, but also on account of Israeli media consumers, who would be much better off if TV 10 disappeared from our screens.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).