Ministers OK controversial bill setting prison sentence for opening business on Saturdays

Proposal to undergo additional ministerial committee that is likely to moderate it.

AN EMPLOYEE of the Makolet 24-hour market on Hillel Street, one of the eight markets being forced by the Jerusalem Municipality to close during Shabbat next month (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
AN EMPLOYEE of the Makolet 24-hour market on Hillel Street, one of the eight markets being forced by the Jerusalem Municipality to close during Shabbat next month
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Owners of businesses that are open on Saturdays without special permission could face fines and up to a year in prison, according to a bill the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted on Sunday to give government backing.
The “Weekly Day of Rest Bill,” submitted by MK Miki Zohar (Likud), states that no business – excluding restaurants, bars and similar public entertainment places, gas stations and pharmacies – may be open on a day of rest – Saturday for Jews, other days for other religions – unless it received specific permission from the economy minister. The minister may authorize businesses to open on Saturdays if it is a matter of national security, bodily or property security, the economy, or supplying services the minister determines are necessary for part or all of the public.
“In addition, businesses may not make their contracts dependent on someone working on a Saturday and cannot demand the other side pay damages for not working on Saturdays.”
If a designated inspector thinks a business violated the law, the inspector could sanction the owner for up to the amount earned on Saturday.
Breaking the law could carry a fine of up to a year in prison or an additional fine of at least NIS 4,000 for every time the law is violated.
The current law, passed in 1951, states that a person cannot be employed on his or her day of rest – Saturday for Jews, Fridays for Muslims, Sundays for Christians – except for in special cases similar to those in Zohar’s bill, and employers may not refuse to hire someone who is unwilling to work on his or her faith’s day of rest. In addition, it says business owners should not open their businesses on the day of rest.
The bill will go to a preliminary vote in the Knesset on Wednesday, and will not be moved further in the legislative process until a committee of ministry directors-general reaches agreement, which is likely to moderate the proposal, due to objections from Kulanu.
Zohar called the bill “an impressive and historic achievement for the State of Israel, which will help the public and anyone who is interested in resting and enjoying time with his family on Israel’s weekly day of rest, which is Saturday.”
The Likud lawmaker said he plans to speak with business owners, NGOs and anyone who thinks the bill will hurt them, so that the legislation can be made fair to the entire public.
MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) said that the bill is “draconian and violates the status quo, which is why the ministerial committee chose to shackle it with a directors-general committee on the issue.
“The law will fulfill [Zohar’s] need in [Likud] primaries, as it was meant to, but will not enter the Israeli law books,” she said.
In the opposition, MK Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid) accused the ministerial committee of approving the bill because, in a 61-seat coalition, the ministers fear upsetting any one lawmaker and losing their majority in the Knesset.
“This is a bizarre proposal that will end, divide and destroy the State of Israel from within, as if we don’t have enough other divisions and crises to fight over,” Razbozov said. “This proposal can lead to a civil war in Israel. Most Israeli Jews go out on Shabbat, shop on Shabbat and use their day of rest in a way that does not harm traditional people at all.”
According to Razbozov, the measure will harm soldiers, students and new immigrants who need to work on Saturdays to augment their income.
“If we don’t stop this bill, Israel will become Iran,” he added.
Tekuma and its MK Bezalel Smotrich said it was important to them, and that they wanted Bayit Yehudi, which functions in the Knesset in a joint faction together with Tekuma, to support it Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, a moderate national-religious lobbying group, said that it was “saddening to see the value of Shabbat used for the benefit of political and economic purposes,” and said that the bill, if it became law, would damage the standing of Shabbat in the public realm.
“The status of Shabbat will not be solved by coercion as this bill proposes to do, but instead through broad agreement,” the organization asserted following the passage of the bill to the Knesset.
“All one-sided processes such as MK Miki Zohar’s bill which seek to impose criminal sanctions [on anyone violating the law] will only distance the possibility of reaching a [mutually] agreed solution.”
Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah said it in favor of limiting commercial activity on Shabbat but that such measures should be taken in parallel with steps that guarantee the availability of cultural and leisure activities.
Along with Zohar’s bill, a government decision was also approved that will transfer the authority of the interior minister to approve or reject a municipal by-law which has been approved by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipal Council to the full cabinet. The by-law would allow a certain number of grocery stores in the city to open on Shabbat and has been awaiting approval since August 2014, but is strongly opposed by Shas and United Torah Judaism since it would regulate and permit commercial activity in the city on Shabbat.
According to Sunday’s government decision, the committee will also examine the viability of a number of bills proposed in recent years by several MKs to make Sunday a non-working day, while making Friday a half-work day and adding an extra half an hour to the remaining working days of the week.