Sa'ar Defers Decision on Opening of Tel Aviv Businesses on Saturday to His Replacement

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A branch of the 24-7 AM:PM chain in Tel Aviv. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar announced Wednesday that he will not make a decision regarding the opening of businesses in Tel Aviv on Saturdays and holidays, leaving the decision to his replacement.

Though he said he wouldn't make a decision on this matter, Sa'ar harshly criticized the bylaw that would make it legal for some businesses to operate on Saturdays approved by Tel Aviv's City Council, two months ago. Three and a half months ago Sa'ar vetoed a previous version of the bylaw, explaining that he did so for social and religious-nationalist reasons.

"I was concerned and still am concerned with the question of how the Israeli street will look on Saturday in a matter of several years, a blink of an eye in historical context," he wrote in his decision.

"Unfortunately, over the last few decades a great chasm has formed between the reality on the street and the law on the books. Meaning, the municipalities have allowed large-scale activity against the law. The Tel Aviv municipality was a particularly conspicuous example though it wasn't alone," Sa'ar wrote. "It wasn't my decision that changed the status quo; rather it was the facts on the ground that changed the situation through illegal activity."

The Tel Aviv bylaw vetoed by Sa'ar would have had 300 small supermarkets and convenience stores of fewer than 800 square meters receive a license to operate on Saturday. The current bylaw would have this number drop to 164 convenience stores of up to 500 square meters.

According to the bylaw, the permits would be personal and non-transferable. They would be valid for two years and will be issued according to area quotas. According to the plan 45 permits would be issued to businesses in "The Old North" neighborhood, 42 downtown, 13 in the eastern neighborhoods of the city, and 12 in Jaffa. In each area only a quarter of the permits will be issued to larger stores with a large variety of products.

According to the plan, if the demand for permits exceeds the allotted quota a raffle will determine the recipients. Alternatively, if the local businesses are interested a turn-based system may be put in place.

The new version of the bylaw also has a provision that would allow the mayor to veto a license if the business in question is located near a synagogue of in a religious neighborhood.

Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar at a press conference, August 21, 2013.Credit: Moti Milrod

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai responded to Sa'ar's criticism of the new bylaw saying "the bylaw is balanced and proper, guarding the city's character. Tel Aviv will continue to be a free city in the future."

The small businesses campaign staff, which spearheaded the drive to close businesses on weekends and holidays, said the campaign was not political but ideological, and aimed against the violation of work and rest laws. It said the current situation created unfair competition, and also deprived working people of their day of rest.

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