Enraged by Threats to Tel Aviv Lifestyle, Group Vows to Take 'Shabbat War' to Haredi Turf

Be Free Israel promises intentional desecration of Shabbat if ultra-Orthodox ministers move ahead with plans to try and close shops in Tel Aviv on the weekends.

A branch of the AM:PM convenience store chain in Tel Aviv.
Ofer Vaknin

In response to a report in Haaretz that Interior Minister Arye Dery wants to close businesses that operate on Shabbat in Tel Aviv, the grassroots religious-freedom movement Be Free Israel posted on Facebook: “For every supermarket that closes on Shabbat you’ll get more war against the corrupt world of Torah. For every ‘desecration of the Sabbath’ you try to stop, you’ll get an even bigger desecration, and intentionally.”

The post was in a response to a report that Dery, who is also chairman of Shas faction, will try to torpedo recommendations of a committee formed to study the Tel Aviv bylaws that allow businesses to stay open on Shabbat.

In the Be Free Israel post, which received 20,000 likes and 250 shares, its language on the issue reached a significant new level. “We’re taking off our gloves. If you close Tel Aviv, you’ll get war,” the post continued.

Be Free Israel (Israel Hofsheet) was the organizer of Saturday night’s protests against the stoppage of work on the railway over the weekend (which meant that many had to be closed to continue working after the Sabbath ended).

A number of Knesset members from Zionist Union and Meretz subsequently joined the protest. The organization describes itself as nonpartisan and says it is working to change the relationship between religion and state in Israel.

Be Free Israel’s executive director, Mickey Gitzin, said he wrote the post because “secular people are being restricted.”

Continuing, Gitzin said: “They took Tel Aviv as a symbol of secularity and went after it aggressively and violently. If a culture war really starts here — and I fervently hope it doesn’t — this will be the turning point in it,” he said.

Gitzin said that while the organization was not antireligious, “we have no choice but to declare war: Secular identity is in danger.”

In answer to TheMarker’s question that, as the post stated, public desecration of the Sabbath could be a possible action, Gitzin said that the option was definitely on the table.

“I don’t want to get there, we are not like that, but there is a real feeling that they declared war on the secular public. Our spirit is ‘live and let live,’ but hermetic closure of Tel Aviv on Shabbat, as it is now stated, will lead to a significant response. The secular public of Tel Aviv will not sit quietly if such a step is taken,” Gitzin said.

Gitzin told TheMarker that people are approaching Be Free Israel with such suggestions, for example, public desecration of the Sabbath in the ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak. “This might not be the right step, but there is such a desire.”

Gitzin wants to implement the plan proposed by the Tel Aviv municipality for the opening of businesses on Shabbat. “There is an immediate and balanced proposal by the Tel Aviv municipality that refers to the character of the population, but it seems to me that this government is doing what it is doing only because it can – not out of consideration for the public.”