(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Yisrael Beytenu will vote against one of the bills that is part of the agreement Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made with Haredi parties to deter them from leaving the coalition, the party announced Wednesday.
The legislation was proposed by senior United Torah Judaism (UTJ) MK Moshe Gafni in response to a Supreme Court ruling allowing mini-markets in Tel Aviv to stay open on Shabbat. It would ban similar shops from staying open in all other cities in Israel.
“The Yisrael Beytenu faction opposes the ‘mini-markets bill’ and demands that it not be brought up for a vote in the Knesset plenum,” the faction’s chairman Robert Ilatov wrote to coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud). “If the bill is brought up for a vote, Yisrael Beytenu faction members will vote against it and Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver will leave the plenum.”
Yisrael Beytenu has somewhat of a secularist agenda, which reflects its voter base that includes many immigrants from the former Soviet Union, most of whom are not religious, and some of whom are not recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate.
Coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) shrugged off the letter, saying, “Yisrael Beytenu always threatens to vote against the coalition in cases like this.”
Bitan plans to meet with Yisrael Beytenu to reach an understanding, explaining that the current draft of the bill is not final.
On Sunday, UTJ MK Ya’acov Litzman resigned as Health Minister, because he did not want to be included in the collective responsibility conferred on ministers when the government allowed railway repairs to take place on Shabbat. Israel Railways argued – and Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz agreed – that the Saturday work was necessary, because otherwise, the entire system would have to be shut down on a weekday, causing a nationwide traffic gridlock.
After Litzman’s resignation, Netanyahu sought to ensure that his Haredi coalition partners, UTJ and Shas, would remain in the coalition, without alienating his non-Haredi base.
The sides agreed that the coalition would pass two bills by Gafni limiting public violations of the Sabbath. They also agreed to pass a bill allowing a deputy minister to control a ministry, so Litzman can return to his health portfolio without bearing the collective responsibility of full ministers. However, the Haredim would have to drop efforts to stop soccer games on Saturdays and rail work would continue.
The second Gafni bill, backed by Minister Katz, would add religious sensitivities to the list of things he has to consider when authorizing labor on Saturdays. It passed a preliminary reading 43-32 Wednesday.
Gafni pushed back in the plenum against claims that his initiative is religious coercion.
“This bill doesn’t force anything on anyone,” he said. “When giving authorization for people to work on Shabbat [instead of resting, the Labor Minister] should consider this matter, too.”
Gafni pointed to the first Israeli prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff, as advocates of Saturday as a day of public rest.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid slammed the bill.
“Gafni, when will you learn that all religious coercion bills do the opposite?” he argued. “You passed the “Hametz Law”, and everyone started eating [leavened bread products on Passover]. You passed the Pigs Law, and a thousand restaurants started serving ham and shrimp [which are not kosher].”
“When will you stop harming Jewish traditions? ...We don’t need a law. Jewish traditions survived fine without you,” Lapid added.
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