Israel Passes Bill That Bans Most Stores From Operating on Shabbat

The narrow 58-57 vote allows the interior minister to repeal future municipal bylaws allowing grocery stores to remain open on the Jewish day of rest

Members of the Knesset vote to temporarily postpone voting on the Supermarkets Bill, January 9, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Knesset passed a bill that would shut down most stores on Shabbat by a one-vote margin.

The so-called Supermarkets Bill, which was promoted intensely by Interior Minister Arye Dery of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, passed 58-57 in its third and final reading early Tuesday morning after a two-hour delay.

The legislation gives the interior minister the authority to overrule certain municipal bylaws concerning the Jewish day of rest – and in doing so, prevent the opening of grocery and convenience stores from sundown on Friday to nightfall on Saturday evening.

The bill would not apply retroactively to existing local bylaws, 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. A number of municipalities rushed to enact bylaws in recent weeks allowing stores to remain open on Shabbat ahead of the bill's passage.

We have to support the Supermarkets Bill and pass it this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of Likud lawmakers on Sunday. There are commitments by the coalition and they must be upheld to continue maintaining the government. Netanyahu voted for the bill.

Coalition whip David Amsalem speaks with Kulanu's Merav Ben Ari at the Knesset ahead of the vote for the Supermarkets Bill, January 8, 2018.
Olivier Fitouss

The passage of the law is not a Haredi victory, it is the preservation of the status quo and the victory of the silent majority, which is interested in the continuation of the Jewish character of the country and is interested in resting on the day of rest, said Dery Tuesday morning, after the bill passed.

Under a compromise reached on Monday, convenience stores in gas stations will be permitted to remain open on Shabbat. However, this exception will only apply to convenience stores that are part of the gas station and operated by it, not separate stores located in the gas station complex. The law will also apply to the city of Eilat, against the wishes of the tourism minister.

Coalition whip David Amsalem noted that the Supermarkets Law was one of the laws that the government committed to as part of the coalition agreement. Shabbat is no less important to [Likud] than to anyone else, said Bitan. After this law passes, you will see that it will change nothing, everything will remain the way it was.

The vote was delayed for two hours at about 3 A.M. because an ammendmend to the bill, submitted by the opposition, passed – seemingly by mistake. Two coalition lawmakers voted against it during the all-night session, though they claimed it a was a technical fault. The objections would have allowed stores selling kitchen equipment to remain open on Saturdays. The bill was then returned to the Interior and Environment Committee, which voted to remove the objection, and it was sent back to the Knesset plenum for a vote.

The four lawmakers from Defense Minister Avigdor Liebermans Yisrael Beiteinu party voted against the bill along with the opposition. Moti Yogev of Habayit Hayehudi and Yossi Yonah of Zionist Union missed the vote because they were in mourning. Likud's Sharren Haskel, Tali Ploskov of Kulanu and Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver of Yisrael Beiteinu were absent from the vote.

Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon filed a petition with the High Court of Justice against the law on Tuesday morning. The petition asks the court to rule the new law unconstitutional because it unproportionally violates the basic civil rights of Israelis and allows a minster who lives a religious lifestyle to force it on all. The petition also asks the High Court to issue a temporary stay preventing the law from being implemented until it rules on the constitutionality of the law.

A short time after passing the Supermarkets Law, the Knesset advanced another bill for the benefit of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party. The bill, which passed the first of three readings, which would enable former Health Minister Yaakov Litzman to return to the ministry as a deputy minister with the full powers of a minister. The bill will now go to committee to prepare it for a second and third vote. Litzman resigned in late November in protest over ongoing work carried out on Shabbat by the government-owned Israel Railways.