(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Following a high profile public battle between secular activists and Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri, the latter has announced the city will stop issuing fines to businesses in large shopping centers in nonresidential areas for operating on Shabbat.
At the beginning of this year, city officials began issuing warning notices, and then fines, to shops in Ashdod’s Big Fashion and Star Center shopping malls for opening on Shabbat, which contravened a municipal bylaw that had never been enforced in these areas.
Secular activists began a concerted campaign of protests which attracted the attention of Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman and other high profile politicians.
And on Wednesday night, Lasri announced that the fines would stop. The mayor explained, as he has in the past, that a ruling by the Ashdod Magistrate’s Court has forced the city to enforce its 1976 bylaw regulating businesses opening on Shabbat.
Lasri said that the city had begun issuing warnings and fines to supermarkets and grocery stores opening up in residential areas of the city, and even close to synagogues, on Shabbat, and that the court approved legal action against these stores but insisted that enforcement be applied equally across the city in light of the bylaw.
The mayor said that the recent spate of fines that were issued came in order to comply with the court’s decision, and were carried out over a limited period of four weeks, which has now ended “in order to restore the city’s enforcement ability.”
Said Lasri, “This process has now ended. That’s it. We finished it already a few weeks ago.”
He added that he has now issued instructions for enforcement efforts to be concentrated only in areas close to the religious community and against any stores which open on Shabbat and are near synagogues.
“We will not allow anyone, at home or from outside, to erect walls of hatred among us, the residents of the city,” said Lasri during his announcement.
“And we won’t allow anyone to lead us to a civil war... [for] anyone to fan the flames anew, to gain votes and mandates is an attempt to wage war against us all, all the city residents. Against life together and mutual respect, mutual respect that has existed for decades. And city residents, secular, religious as one, will not forgive these efforts to harm our coexistence.”
Members of the opposition in the Ashdod City Council welcomed the new situation, saying that the political pressure from them and activist groups in the city had been effective in bringing it about.
Some activists are still insistent however that the city council pass a bylaw anchoring the rights of businesses to open on Shabbat in law.