After Minister's Threat to Resign, Israel Gives Initial Backing to Bill That Would Shutter Shops on Shabbat

Interior Minister Dery threatened to resign if the bill wouldn't pass, causing Netanyahu to rush to the Knesset upon his arrival from Europe to solve the crisis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Arye Dery.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Knesset passed early Tuesday the first reading of a bill initiated by Interior Minister Arye Dery that would restrict the opening of stores on Shabbat. Fifty-nine lawmakers supported the bill and 54 opposed it.

The governing coalition had trouble cobbling together enough votes to pass the first reading, which would allow Dery to strike down municipal bylaws that permit commerce on the Jewish day of rest.

Dery threatened to resign from the government if the bill didn't pass this first reading, Haaretz learned on Monday evening, causing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to rush to the Knesset upon his arrival in Israel from Europe in a bid to resolve the crisis.

After Netanyahu exerted pressure on party members who had expressed opposition to the law, Likud lawmakers Oren Hazan and Yehuda Glick retracted on their intention to abstain from voting.

The crisis over the bill arose when the Yisrael Beiteinu faction, led by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, announced that four of its lawmakers planned to vote against the bill, while one of its ministers, Sofa Landver, would abstain. 

Lawmaker Tali Ploskov (Kulanu) also said she would abstain, while Likud lawmakers Sharren Haskel, Hazan and Glick were also threatening to abstain. Under those circumstances, full attendance by the opposition could cause the bill to fail.

It should be noted that the bill would only apply to bylaws passed in the future, and therefore would not affect a Tel Aviv ordinance that allows grocery stores to remain open on Shabbat. The ordinance passed the muster from the High Court of Justice in October.