Pub owners in a fizz over Bar Law

MK Ruhama Avraham: Goal is to battle alcohol-related traffic accidents and street violence.

October 26, 2006 22:22
4 minute read.
Pub owners in a fizz over Bar Law

tel aviv pub 88. (photo credit: )


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What has come to be known as the "Bar Law" was passed in a preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday by a vote of 37 in favor, three abstentions and one against. The law seeks to prohibit the sale of alcohol at bars, restaurants and perhaps even supermarkets between 2 and 6 a.m. According to the law's creator, Kadima MK Ruhama Avraham, its goal is to battle the scourge of alcohol-related traffic accidents and street violence. "The purpose of this law is one-fold," explained Avraham, and that is "to save lives. Is it not time we stopped talking and started doing?" she asked. At the same time, however, pub owners believe that the misuse of alcohol, not alcohol itself, is the source of drinking problems that lead to violence and traffic accidents. The standard closing time would most likely force more drivers who have been drinking to be on the roads at the same time, and at earlier hours, while many more people who have not been drinking could still be driving. In addition, today's bar goers may choose to start drinking at home, meaning that instead of alcohol-influenced drivers only driving home, they would also drive to the bar under the influence. Moshe Levi, the owner of the Slow Moshe, told The Jerusalem Post that closing the bars early would make the situation worse. "In Tel Aviv," said Levi, "because of the humidity, people only start going out at around 12:00. It won't work." The owner of the Mike's Place bars in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Asaf Ganzman, said the new law would hurt people's pocketbooks. "As it is, the nightlife in Jerusalem isn't so good and it's hard to make a living. So they want to cut our income? It's difficult to make a profit, so to take away working hours is not good," said Ganzman. Avraham presented statistics from other countries that showed the law would reduce violence and accidents. "Through checks we have conducted in those countries [where the law is already operational] we found a 50 percent decrease in violence and a 20% decrease in alcohol-related accidents," she said. In most states in the US, bars are now required to close their doors at a certain hour. The law is also operational in many EU countries, including Ireland, Belgium and Norway. But Ganzman says that "the Israeli public hasn't been trained to think like in other places. In the United States, people are used to it and know how to act accordingly. People here aren't used to it. It will cause more accidents." Levi agrees, saying, "Clear and simple, it won't reduce violence. People will go nuts in the streets. There is no chance that people in Tel Aviv will go home at 2:00, and there will be more street gangs as a result." What's more, says Levi, "Many bars will hike up the prices on alcohol." Many bartenders and waiters are students who need to work at night in order to pay their way through university. Both Levi and Ganzman don't foresee having to let employees go, but according to Ganzman, "the shorter shifts would mean less money, in salary and tips." Even though Levi thinks the Bar Law won't be successful, he offered that if it were to have any chance of working, it would have to be a gradual process. "If a place is already running then don't touch it," he said. "But if I were to buy a place, or open up a new bar, then the new law should come into effect. The person buying the bar would know from the start that the bar would have to close at 2 a.m." According to Avraham, some bar owners have already volunteered ideas about how to make the law agreeable to all sides. One such idea involves the bar owner hiring, with his own money, a policeman who would test the blood-alcohol level in customers in order to determine if they were capable, under law, to drive home. Another suggestion involves a one-hour "refreshment" period, in which the bar would cease alcohol sales at 2:00 but remain open for another hour so as to allow the effects of the alcohol to wear off. Levi said that having a policeman at the door would be too great an infringement on people's privacy. Despite the prospect the Bar Law offers of saving lives, some die-hard cynics suggest that the motivation behind it is not only to save lives, but to add further capital to the national coffer. If the law's final version stipulates that bar owners, pending a fine, are entitled to keep their businesses open past the selling deadline, then the likely scenario is that most would choose to pay the fine rather than shut the taps. As of 2005, bars in England were no longer required to close at a certain hour. The government wanted to end what happened all too often in the country - heavy drinkers pouring into the streets at the traditional closing time of 11 p.m. The argument was that later closing times would lead to more civilized drinking. According to a 2005 MSNBC report, police officials noted that in places such as London and Newcastle, ever since the law was reversed, Friday nights had been "quieter than usual."

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