Israeli Minister: I Can Veto Local Bylaws Allowing Shabbat Trade Even Without Knesset Bill

Interior minister's statement comes as several cities rush to preempt prospective ‘supermarkets law’

Interior Minister Arye Dery
Emil Salman

There’s no point in municipalities rushing to enact new bylaws allowing supermarkets to open on Shabbat, because even today the interior minister has the right to overturn them, Interior Minister Arye Dery said Tuesday.

As Haaretz reported earlier this week, several municipalities are rushing to enact such bylaws before the Knesset passes a law giving the interior minister veto power over any bylaw enabling supermarkets to open on Shabbat. Since the law will not be retroactive, any bylaws enacted before it passes are theoretically safe.

But in an interview with Army Radio, Dery said the legal situation for the past 70 years has been that the interior minister can refuse to approve any municipal bylaw within 60 days after it is passed, and that is still the case. “So all the laws you see in the headlines now – this race against time – are pointless,” he added.

Dery charged that the mayors advancing these bylaws are merely trying to reap political capital, since the next municipal elections are less than a year away.

But Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beiteinu party opposes the Knesset bill, praised the mayors on Tuesday. “Activity in the public square on Shabbat is strictly a matter for local governments,” he wrote on Facebook. “Yes to tradition, yes to Jewish values, but no to religious coercion.”

On Monday, Rishon Letzion’s city council approved a bylaw allowing grocery stores and certain other types of businesses to open on Shabbat in commercial areas. At least five other municipalities plan to follow suit.

“This isn’t an argument over Shabbat,” Dery insisted. “I have no interest in changing things; I’ve learned that coercion achieves nothing. But understand one thing: The people of Israel gave the world the great tidings of a day of rest. What each individual does – if he wants to go to the beach or buy an ice cream – pains me as a Jew, but I don’t interfere in such things.”

Nevertheless, he continued, “When you’re talking about supermarkets, tomorrow morning it will also be shoe stores. And I’m not willing under any circumstances for Shabbat, Israel’s day of rest, to become like any other day.”

That is why the Knesset bill gives the minister veto power specifically over supermarkets, he said. He insisted that it wouldn’t prevent theaters, cafés or cultural institutions from opening on Shabbat.

Also on Tuesday, Herzliya Mayor Moshe Fadlon threatened to petition the High Court of Justice against the bill if the Knesset passes it.