Shabbat Wars Heat Up: 2,000 Protest in Southern Israel Against Plan to Shutter Shops

Interior Minister Dery says he's 'had it with Lieberman' after defense chief visits mall in Ashdod on Saturday

Protesters demonstrating outside Ashdod City Hall on January 20, 2018.
Ilan Assayag

An estimated 2,000 people demonstrated in Ashdod for the second consecutive Saturday evening against the southern city’s plan to prohibit businesses from opening on Shabbat.

Protesters who gathered outside city hall carried signs proclaiming “The city is putting my home up for sale,” “No to religious coercion” and “Each to his own faith.” They also called on Mayor Yehiel Lasri to resign.

Demonstrators were protesting the city’s issuing of closure orders to businesses in Ashdod shopping malls that open on Shabbat. Municipal officials say the orders were given following complaints and in light of the so-called supermarkets law passed by the Knesset some two weeks ago. The new law gives the interior minister the authority to repeal any future municipal bylaws allowing stores to open on Shabbat.

Speakers at the demonstrations repeatedly said they have nothing against the city’s ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) community and that their message is meant for the mayor, who has not responded publicly to the protests.

Political figures who came to show their support for the protesters included Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid and MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz).

“Ashdod’s fight isn’t local, it’s a battle over the character of the state, over freedom of choice, over the question of whether Shabbat divides us or unites us,” Lapid said.

Local protesters included Ilia and Alexandra Veltman, who were there with their 1-year-old son. “During the week we don’t get a chance to go out,” Ilia said, adding that “in the rest of the country no one intends to enforce the law – in Ashdod they do.

It’s not a city with an ultra-Orthodox majority. It’s not Tiberias or Beit Shemesh, and what scares me is that we’ll turn into Tiberias from the demographic perspective, with a Haredi majority,” he added.

Earlier Saturday, Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited the city’s Big Fashion mall – one of three shopping centers in Ashdod that are open on Shabbat, until recently without any interference from the municipality.

Addressing the crowd, Lieberman said that anyone who calls the supermarkets law meaningless “is wrong and is deceiving others. Unfortunately, the supermarkets law has wide-ranging repercussions,” he said. “Its passage was seen in a few city municipalities as an order to attack. Everything we are seeing here in Ashdod, unfortunately, is the direct result of the supermarkets law.”

Responding to the defense minister's visit to the mall, Interior Minister Arye Dery said he's "had it with Avigdor Lieberman." The so-called supermarkets law was promoted intensely by Dery, who praised its passage earlier in January as "the preservation of the status quo and the victory of the silent majority."