(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to stall a report on the findings of a committee he established to resolve the issue of opening commercial businesses on Shabbat in Tel Aviv, multiple sources connected to the committee said on Monday.
The committee, led by Prime Minister’s Office director-general Eli Groner, included directors- general from five relevant ministries. It was given 180 days to reach its conclusions, plus a 45-day extension.
This extended deadline passed last week, and the committee’s findings were to have been presented at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. But Netanyahu, who is still reeling from the Shabbat train crisis, decided to push off the presentation to an undetermined future date.
After failing to reach a consensus, the committee was going to instead release a list of options for solving the dispute over a Tel Aviv municipal bylaw passed in 2014, which permits the opening of the stores in the city.
Tel Aviv’s municipal council approved a bylaw in August 2014 that enabled approximately 15 percent of grocery stores citywide to remain open on Shabbat. The bylaw was a response to then-interior minister Gideon Sa’ar rejecting another bylaw that had been approved by the council that would have allowed even more grocery stores to remain open.
After Sa’ar rejected the bylaws, the Tel Aviv Municipality appealed to the High Court of Justice, asking it to prevent central government from intervening in municipal legislation. That case is still ongoing and awaiting the response of the government, which the committee was supposed to draft.
The issue of stores opening on Shabbat resurfaced last month when a branch of the Henri’s cafe franchise opened in the fashionable Sarona Market mall in Tel Aviv, which is dedicated to fine cuisine and the provision of high-end dining and food products. The cafe was fined by the municipality for not opening on Shabbat.
A source close to Netanyahu downplayed the delay in the report’s presentation, saying that the report is not due back in court until December. But secular groups and the Tel Aviv municipality were disappointed that the committee failed to reach conclusions.
“The city council has decided on a correction of the bylaw and is awaiting the government and Supreme Court to decide in regards to the bylaw,” the city said in an official response. “In any case, as the mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa has said before, the city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa will continue to be a free and pluralistic city as it has been up to today.”
Meanwhile, the heads of United Torah Judaism and Shas complained Monday about work done this past weekend by Israel Railways on Shabbat.
While the weekend passed without a crisis, UTJ MK Moshe Gafni said the work that took place was unacceptable and that he would insist that Shabbat desecration not take place next weekend.
Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz intends to continue limited Israel Railways work on Shabbat despite demands by the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) for the work to stop. He will continue meeting with all the relevant parties weekly to ensure that each Shabbat will pass quietly following two earlier weekends of political turmoil.
Addressing polls that were seen as resulting from the Shabbat train scandal, UTJ leader Ya’acov Litzman said Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid will never be prime minister. He downplayed efforts by Lapid to reach out to the haredi community.
‘’I still don’t speak to Lapid and I don’t intend to speak to him,’’ Litzman said at an event in Ramat Gan. “He hasn’t changed his views. Wearing a kippa at the Western Wall means nothing. When he votes for our bills, we’ll talk.’’
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.