Minister Nixes Bylaw That Would Let Tel Aviv Businesses Open on Sabbath

Interior minister says the proposed law contradicts Israel’s values as a Jewish and democratic state.

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

Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said Sunday he would not approve a bylaw letting Tel Aviv convenience stores remain open on the Sabbath.

Sa’ar, however, approved legislation letting commercial centers, including stores at Tel Aviv Port, Jaffa Port and the renovated Old Train Station complex, stay open on the Sabbath. Sa’ar noted that Saturday is considered a day of rest under Israeli labor law, and that he did not wish to harm “the delicate balance of appropriate business activities during the Sabbath.”

“It was not explained why these stores’ services are essential to the public, or how the public’s needs cannot be met by these businesses on other days of the week, or during a shorter time frame than currently in practice,” Sa’ar said.

According to the minister, the proposed bylaw contradicts Israel's values as a Jewish and democratic state.

“It contradicts the democratic aspect in that it creates contempt for the rule of law, a basic principle in any democratic government,” he said. “It contradicts the Jewish aspect in that it harms the national and social notion of the Sabbath, a central facet of the public sphere.”

Sa’ar noted “the importance of the Sabbath as a national symbol in Israel for the general public, as well as the rights and sensibilities of other groups.” He said these groups included not just the religious community but also secular people who seek to “preserve the character of the only day of rest during the week.”

Two big supermarket chains, Tiv Ta’am and AM:PM, have Tel Aviv branches open on the Sabbath, which begins on Friday evening. The city has closure regulations for the Sabbath but has enforced them inconsistently. Some business owners say they are fined 730 shekels ($218) every week by municipal inspectors, while others say they are fined only every few weeks.

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