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(photo credit: GPO)
Call them "Pessah narcs" or "hametz finks" - these self-appointed informers will wander the cities of Israel this holiday searching for wayward restaurateurs, bakers and other food purveyors illegally displaying leavened bread during the seven days of Pessah.
Armed with a cellphone camera and an eye - and a nose - for fresh-baked bread, each informant will relay concrete evidence of the illicit culinary activity to a group of legal activists. Police, municipal officials and the Interior Ministry will be notified of the transgression.
"The Jewish character of the State of Israel is at stake," said Nachi Eyal, chairman of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, whose organization is spearheading a campaign to encourage Israelis to help enforce the Hametz Law.
"There is only one Jewish state in the world, and we have a duty to maintain its Jewishness. Making sure that the public domain remains hametz-free is part of that duty," added Eyal.
He said his legal watchdog organization was involved in many diverse issues, but admitted that many of its members were religious.
"We think that if the Knesset took the trouble to pass a law, then it should be enforced. Otherwise the state's authority is undermined," he said.
The Hametz Law of 1986 forbids the public display of leavened products (hametz) during Pessah for sale purposes. But in a state with a secular majority and a robust hankering for hametz, the threat of fines, which can reach many thousands of shekels, has failed to repress trade.
The law has proven nearly impossible to enforce, and even in a city like Jerusalem with a large religious population and a high sensitivity to traditional sensibilities, it has always been possible to get a slice of pizza or a plate of spaghetti.
Enforcing the law has become even more complicated since a Court for Local Affairs in Jerusalem ruled last year that hametz could be sold and served during Pessah inside stores and restaurants, since they did not constitute public domain.
In her ruling, Judge Tamar Bar-Asher Tzaban ruled that these venues were not the "public places" referred to in the Hametz Law because, unlike open markets, they were closed off and could not be seen by passers-by.
"As a result of last year's decision by Bar-Asher Tzaban, which was not challenged by the attorney-general, we have decided to make sure that what is left of the law is enforced," Eyal said.
Since the launch of its campaign on Monday, the forum has already received complaints. One of them is against a McDonald's in Haifa's City Center Mall.
"We have a permit to sell hametz," said a McDonald's employee who responded to a telephone inquiry by The Jerusalem Post. "We aren't doing anything against the law."
But the forum is concerned that the McDonald's is serving its hametz in an open space in the mall, which, according to the forum, would make it a public domain and therefore illegal.
Not all religious leaders agree with the forum's tactics. Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, chairman of Tzohar - a group of modern Orthodox rabbis - said that coercion was counterproductive.
"I personally believe that secular Israelis should want to have a hametz-free public domain, because otherwise, in what way is this state Jewish?" said Feuerstein. "But I also believe that any attempts to force people via legislation will only turn them off. Coercion does not bring anyone closer to Judaism."