(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
TTwo bills shoring up restrictions against public desecration of the Sabbath were approved by the government on Sunday for advancement in the Knesset, in line with a deal between the haredi parties and the prime minister to keep the former in the coalition.
Approval of one of those bills, the so-called “grocery stores bill,” drew scathing criticism from the opposition, however, with Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid describing it as “religious coercion” and “divisive.”
The grocery stores bill, which is designed to block cities from allowing shops to open on Shabbat, was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and the full cabinet, and will now go for its first reading in the Knesset.
Another law, to require the labor and social services minister to “take into consideration Jewish tradition” when deciding whether or not to grant approval for infrastructure maintenance work on Shabbat was approved by the cabinet, after being approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation last week.
The grocery law, if approved, would give the interior minister the authority to block bylaws passed by municipal authorities that allow grocery stores, mini-markets and other businesses to open on Shabbat, apart from Tel Aviv, which has already passed such a law and put it into effect.
Indeed, it was the decision by the High Court of Justice to force the government to allow Tel Aviv to implement its bylaw that was the cause behind the new legislation, which the haredi parties hope will stop the precedent from spreading.
The two pieces of legislation come against the background of the severe coalition crisis that blew up over the last few weeks surrounding maintenance work on the Israel Railways network, which angered United Torah Judaism and Shas, and led UTJ chairman Ya’acov Litzman to resign as health minister.
The deal reached between Litzman, UTJ MK Moshe Gafni, Shas chairman Arye Deri and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent the crisis deepening even further was to pass the grocery store law and infrastructure maintenance bill.
The grocery stores bill was passed in both the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and the full cabinet in order to prevent an appeal against it by Yisrael Beytenu, which opposes the legislation.
Lapid denounced the approval of the grocery store bill as “another insulting law of religious coercion under the cover of Netanyahu’s political deal with the Haredim.”
Said Lapid: “They are again creating division instead of a real discussion about the Israeli Sabbath, and we will fight this law with all our strength.”
Yisrael Beytenu and its chairman, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, have publicly opposed the bill and said the party and its five MKs will vote against the bill in the Knesset plenum.
Yisrael Beytenu faction chairman MK Robert Illatov described the passage of the bill as a “gross violation of the status quo [on religion and state] and an injury to the secular community, which is the majority in the State of Israel.”
Illatov said that the party’s opposition to the bill if it comes for a vote in the Knesset plenum would seriously endanger its chances of being passed.