Legal battle over opening of grocery stores on Shabbat continues

Currently, 165 grocery stores are open on Shabbat in Tel Aviv.

'Shufersal' supermarket (photo credit: REUTERS)
'Shufersal' supermarket
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With a ruling by the High Court of Justice expected on the long running saga of grocery stores in Tel Aviv opening on Shabbat, the association behind the petition has sought to withdraw it altogether due objections against the attitude of the court.
The Association of Tradesmen and Independent Business Owners has fought a campaign for over a decade to force large grocery chains such as AM:PM and others to close on Shabbat since opening contravened the law and represented unfair competition for independent stores who wished to close on Shabbat.
In 2013, the High Court ruled in favor of their petition based on the prohibitions in Tel Aviv municipal law, but the Tel Aviv Municipal Council then approved a new municipal bylaw in 2014 which specifically allowed 165 grocery stores to open on Shabbat around the city.
The bylaw was never approved by an Interior Minister, as is required for bylaws, and eventually the Tel Aviv Municipal Council petitioned the High Court to force the government to make a decision on its bylaw.
When the government failed however to make a decision, the court ruled in April this year that the bylaw must be allowed to go into affect.
Yair Korach, chairman of the Association of Tradesmen and Independent Business Owners, told The Jerusalem Post that his organization felt that due to the actions of the court and the Attorney General’s Office they had not received a fair hearing and therefore sought to withdraw their petition.
Korach cited several technical requests made by the associations legal representation all of which had been rejected, including a request that the case be based broadly on all relevant laws pertaining to work on Shabbat as opposed to the insistence by the Attorney General that it be based only on a specific clause of the Law for Hours of Work and Rest.
Korach also noted that former justice Elyakim Rubenstein, who ruled in the minority against the Tel Aviv Municipality in April, was taken off the expanded panel whose ruling is expected on Thursday. 
“We were given blow after blow, so it appears to us that there is nothing for us in the High Court, so we sought to withdraw the petition,” he said, adding that no decision would be better now than a negative one for them.
The association’s attorneys refused however to do so, saying that although they understood the association’s frustrations it would be damaging and unprofessional to withdraw the petition at such a late stage.
Korach and the association argue that by opening on Shabbat when other businesses seek to take advantage of their day of rest, large chains are unfairly taking business from smaller independent outlets. 
“They are stealing the income of grocery stores that observe the law,” he said, referring to the Law for Hours of Work and Rest which prohibits requiring an employee to work on the Sabbath.
In response to what appears to be the likely ruling of the High Court upholding its previous decision that the Tel Aviv bylaw go into effect, a bill proposed by United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni to circumvent the decision has been put on the agenda of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday.
In response, Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria has had her bill added to the committee’s agenda which would regulate commercial activity on Shabbat while at the same time formally permit the operation of leisure and recreational institutions on the Sabbath, and some public transport.