A Religious-populist Battle

The social platform in a nutshell: he who works on Shabbat is an exploited slave, employers a gang of exploiters.

The 17th Knesset is turning out to be the most populist Knesset ever. The atmosphere in the committees is one of total absence of control; there is an opposition that fights against everything and a coalition that joins the vocal opposition to reforms and structural changes - a cacophony of shouts and protests.

There is, of course, one common denominator shared by all the protests and all the 1,000 (!) bills that the MKs have already managed to submit: more money. That is how they solve everything. At the expense of the anonymous and invisible taxpayer - the entire public.

And the media report about only the shouters, protesters, gate crashers and populists. And since personal publicity is the heart and soul of parliamentary activity, it is clear which way the wind is blowing.

Last Friday, the daily newspaper Maariv also joined the populist battle with a headline reporting a new disaster: "17 percent of citizens over the age of 18 work on Shabbat, while most of us are resting and having fun." How terrible, how sad. The paper reports on the hero who is about to solve the problem: Industry, Trade and Employment Minister Eli Yishai, who will send supervisors and close those bad shopping centers.

And the greatest social welfare advocate of them all, MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor), is quickly taking her place at his side: "We have turned almost 20 percent of the workers into slaves," she says dramatically. "The worker does not really have a right to choose, in many cases he does not receive the extra salary and alternative day of rest. It's simply the height of slavery. These are the interests of the major capitalists."

Here is the entire social platform in a nutshell: The person who works is an exploited slave, the employers are a gang of exploiters without conscience who steal his salary and his day of rest, and the whole idea of opening shopping centers on Shabbat is nothing but a capitalist plot against the consumers.

A quick examination of the data indicates that of those 314,000 "exploited" workers, a large percentage (88,000) are non-Jews, whose day of rest is not Shabbat. Another sizable percentage are employees of security services, police, hospitals, Israel Electric Corporation, airlines, airports, plants that operate 24 hours a day, newspapers, media, computer service providers, hotels, restaurants and movie theaters - all of which have legal permission to work on Shabbat. In other words, this is not a case of "exploitation of almost 20 percent of the workers," but only of a few thousand who work in commerce in shopping centers outside the cities. But why bother with details?

Yishai has no understanding of the world of the working man, the person who works hard all week long, he and his wife, and who has no other time to go out with the children for shopping and entertainment except on Shabbat. After all, he educates the youth of Shas to live without working, relying on allocations, gifts and grants from the government. Both he and Yachimovich fail to understand that the shopping centers opened as a result of public demand by those who want to improve their standard of living, spend their time as they wish, and don't want anyone telling them what to buy, when to buy, and how to spend their free time. Have the tens of thousands who come to the shopping centers been brought there against their will by exploiting capitalists?

Once we lived in a world that closed at 7 P.M. In order to buy bread and milk, we had to rush to get home in time, otherwise we wouldn't have any. Today the global trend is to provide services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The world no longer stops at night or on weekends. But Yishai and Yachimovich (one for religious reasons and one for populist reasons) do not understand that if the economy stops for a day and a half, production will decrease, the pie will shrink, the standard of living will decline, taxes will decline, the sum of money received from taxes will decrease - and then there will be no money for the health services basket, the weak and the disabled.

In the distorted view of Yishai and Yachimovich - the workers are always ex ploited. But there is a high demand for work on Shabbat. Many people are interested in the 50 percent additional wages, and make an effort to work on such a day. Some - students, soldiers and young people - work only on weekends because they want to help support their families. Even Maariv wrote about a saleswoman who said: "I enjoy working on Shabbat. I do errands in midweek, on my free day." Another said: "I earn 150 percent of what I earn on a weekday, and it's worthwhile for me; this shift is in demand, people here fight in order to work on Shabbat."

Yishai has work to do in this area. He has to make sure that everyone who works on Shabbat receives all his legal rights; that there is not a single worker who does not receive the additional wages and alternative day of rest. He has to make sure that all employers pay minimum wage and grant all rights to which the worker is entitled. But let him stop the religious coercion, stop trying to make the public regress, and not mind our business and interfere with our free choice.