Vote on Shabbat Bill Postponed After Opposition From Coalition

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A branch of the 24-7 AM:PM chain in Tel Aviv.Credit: Ronit Domke

After coalition MKs made clear they would oppose the bill that would ban all stores and shopping centers from operating on Shabbat, MK Miki Zohar (Likud) has announced that he will postpone the vote on the controversial bill, which was slated to have its preliminary Knesset reading Wednesday.

The bill has aroused stiff opposition, and Wednesday morning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Zohar to craft a version that would satisfy the opponents before bringing it to a preliminary reading. Zohar announced that he would only present the bill to the Knesset Wednesday, and wait for it to be brought to a vote.

“This is obviously a complex and important bill that holds implications for the entire population,” he said. “I believe this bill has a very important Jewish social value, and so I will work to foster agreement with my colleagues in the coalition and opposition.”

Kulanu has voiced fierce objections to the current format of the bill, which was submitted by Zohar and MK David Amsalem (Likud). Their coalition colleague, House Committee chairman David Biton, also of Likud, announced Tuesday that he would not let the bill pass.

“Even if the bill were to somehow pass a preliminary reading, as chairman, I would bury it in the committee,” said Biton. “I’m traditional in my observance, my wife is religious. But this bill would only cause harm to the public and to Likud.”

Likud MK Amir Ohana also announced Tuesday that he would oppose the bill. “This is an anti-liberal bill that seeks to deepen religious coercion, which only harms the state and harms religion,” he said.

The bill aims to strengthen the legal standing of the sabbath as the weekly day of rest and would prohibit making a work contract or business rental contingent upon working on Shabbat. The bill was approved by the Legislation Committee after the Kulanu faction did not scuttle it, even though the coalition agreement grants the party the right to impose a veto since the law would alter the status quo on matters of religion and state. Kulanu wanted to introduce major changes in the law and promote an alternative legislative initiative by MK Rachel Azaria that would allow local authorities to approve public transportation on Shabbat and the opening of leisure and cultural facilities.

According to Zohar and Amsalem’s bill, the economics minister would appoint someone to oversee the law’s enforcement and inspectors to check that the law is being followed, with violators subject to a minimum fine of NIS 4,000 and up to a year in prison. The bill also states that businesses within three kilometers of businesses that break the law could also sue the violators for financial compensation.

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