Netanyahu Delays Cyprus Trip to Gather Support for Bill That Would Shutter Shops on Shabbat

Prime Minister's Office accuses opposition of refusing to withdraw one of their votes for the 'supermarket law' in his absence, but Zionist Union MK says he was never asked

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades in Nicosia, Cyprus, July 28, 2015.
Kobi Gideon/GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is postponing his official trip to Cyprus, with whom a natural gas accord was recently signed, in order to shore up support for a controversial bill that would close supermarkets on Shabbat.

The Prime Minister’s Office explained that the Knesset opposition is refusing to offset his vote by taking away one of its own MKs from the vote during his absence, as is customarily done.

“It is true that if the prime minister would ask the opposition that his vote be offset, the answer would be negative,” MK Yoel Hasson of Zionist Union, the largest opposition party, posted on Twitter. “However, in contrast to his claim, I did not receive any request, and therefore he cannot claim that he was refused.”

The bill would empower the interior minister to veto any bylaws enacted by municipalities allowing certain businesses to open on Shabbat. 

The coalition postponed a vote on the bill by a week at the request of the Haredi parties because MK Yehudah Glick, whose wife Yaffa died on Monday, and MK David Azoulay, who is in hospital, were not expected to participate in the vote. The postponement was preceded by a clash between Likud and Shas over the formulation of the law, and exchanges of accusations between the coalition party leaders.

Coalition whip David Amsalem asked to exempt Eilat hotels, convenience stores and gas stations from the bill, but discussions between the sides failed to produce a compromise. Interior Minister Arye Dery then insisted on bringing the bill to a vote based on the original wording.

Amsalem sought to pass it anyway in its softened version though a parliamentary exercise – coalition members believe that his proposed changes will pass with support from the opposition, and then the Haredi parties would be left with no choice but to support the amended version of the bill.

Referring to the controversial piece of legislation, Hasson tweeted: “I repeat my position that there is nothing urgent about the supermarkets bill, and therefore @netanyahu there is no justification for vote offsetting.”