The Ashdod Magistrates Court on Monday rejected the Ashdod municipality’s request to issue orders compelling the proprietors of five grocery stores and delicatessens in the city to close their businesses on Saturdays. Judge Yehuda Lieblein ruled that the municipality was imposing selective enforcement on the five. In his ruling, he concluded that the reason behind the request is that these businesses “prominently display the fact that they sell food that is not kosher.”
“It is hard to dismiss the impression that the municipality’s new enforcement ‘policy’ has focused on businesses run by immigrants from the Commonwealth of Independent States and their stores sell food that is not kosher,” the judge noted in his decision.
The affair began in November 2014, when the municipality sent five businesses in the city orders to close their doors on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Four of the shops sold food that is not kosher and three of them were run by immigrants from the former. Soviet Union. The Ashdod municipality, which until then had been content with imposing fines, based itself on a Supreme Court ruling on a petition submitted by business owners from Tel Aviv and Hitachdut Hasoharim Veha’atzmai’im Haclalit, an association of merchants and the self-employed, against the Tel Aviv municipality on the grounds that it was not enforcing the labor and rest laws.
At that time, Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor ruled that the municipality was not doing enough to enforce these laws and moreover, “by enforcing the law only through imposing fines against businesses that operate on the Sabbath and holidays, it is in effect enabling the continuing violation of the bylaw.”
In light of this, the Ashdod municipality decided to enforce the laws more strictly against businesses that operate on the Sabbath and holidays in the southern part of the city also. The municipality, it was noted in court, decided to make the change in a gradual way and chose to focus on businesses with premises larger than 120 square meters (about 1,300 square feet) located in residential areas.
When the judge tried to understand why the municipality did not also issue closure orders to shops in the Star Center complex (known familiarly in Ashdod as the Revivo compound), the municipality responded that although the place is indeed located in a residential area, a major road runs past it and therefore its businesses “are not adjacent” to the residences. Later, the judge said that it would have been better “had this argument not been made.”
The judge also wrote that at no time during the trial did the Ashdod municipality submit a document defining the new enforcement policy, but in a letter from municipality director general Ilan Bar Adi to former Absorption Minister Sofa Landver that was submitted to the court, the municipal official stated: “To my regret, in recent months for the first time large grocery stores located adjacent to residential areas with a traditional and religiously observant population have decided to open their doors on the Sabbath while giving prominence in their huge advertising in the local newspaper to the opening of their businesses on the Sabbath and also to the sale of pork products.”
In light of this, the judge added, he concludes that the criterion by which these five businesses were selected is apparently related to their prominent display of the fact that they sell non-kosher food. As to the argument that the businesses are located in the residential area of a religiously observant population, the judge added that on the basis of having visited the locations himself and the maps that were submitted to him, in the cases of at least three of the businesses this claim is incorrect and “relatively, they are not adjacent to quarters of a decidedly religious character.”
Finally, Lieblein ruled: “The municipality must act, as did Tel Aviv, to change the bylaw in a way that will reflect the changes that have occurred in the city over the years and provide an answer for the needs of all the populations living in the city.”
He also rejected the municipality’s’ request to issue cease and desist orders to the business, and ordered the municipality to pay each of the businesses NIS 20,000 in court costs.
The Ashdod municipality responded: “We respect the court’s decision and are studying the ruling in depth.”