Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Shabbat continues to cast a pall over the coalition, with the government currently experiencing severe difficulties in mustering enough votes to pass a law banning businesses from opening on the day of rest.
Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and Shas demanded that the so-called grocery stores bill be passed in November in the wake of what they have deemed to be unacceptable levels of public Shabbat desecration.
But it now appears that the coalition does not have a majority to pass it.
Yisrael Beytenu has said it will oppose the law, several other coalition MKs have expressed opposition to the legislation, and the opposition is reportedly refusing to offset the vote of Shas MK and Religious Services Minister David Azoulay, who is ill and will likely be unable to attend the Knesset to vote.
The bill passed its first reading by 59 votes to 54, and Channel 2 News reported on Sunday night that the coalition will likely only be able to marshal 58 votes in favor of the legislation for its final readings which are due to be held this week.
A UTJ source confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that as things stand, the coalition does not have a majority to pass the law. Passage of the law was a key demand of UTJ and Shas, following a coalition crisis in November over ongoing infrastructure construction and maintenance work being done on Shabbat.
UTJ chairman Ya’acov Litzman resigned as health minister and threatened further action against the coalition should his demands – which included passing the grocery stores bill and another law requiring “Jewish tradition” to be taken into account when issuing Shabbat work permits – not be met.
That legislation passed into law last week, but the grocery stores bill has aroused greater opposition.
Earlier this year, the High Court of Justice enabled the Tel Aviv Municipal Authority to implement the bylaw it passed in 2014 allowing 165 grocery stores to open on Shabbat in the city.
In the deal worked out between Litzman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in November, it was agreed that the government would support the grocery stores bill which would give the Interior Minister, Shas chairman Arye Deri, the right to block any bylaws passed by other municipal authorities.
Failure to pass the law could lead UTJ to take action against the coalition, such as voting against government bills, should the grocery stores bill not be approved.
The UTJ source told the Post that such action would be reasonable, but stated that the party would not give up on the legislation and insisted that it was “the job of the coalition leadership to obtain a majority” for the bill.
Yesh Atid faction chairman MK Ofer Shelah called on “honest people” in the coalition to oppose the bill, saying “Netanyahu might capitulate to Litzman but this does not need to obligate the people of Kulanu,” adding that “we can stop the recklessness of Litzman and Deri.”
The Ministerial Committee on Legislation voted on Sunday to advance a controversial bill that would allow Litzman to run the Health Ministry as a deputy minister. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Litzman after his resignation and promised that he would amend existing legislation to permit him to run the ministry as a deputy minister and circumvent a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that barred him from doing so.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.