Israeli Merchants Seeking to Close New Mall on Saturdays

'It’s not fair to us or to workers in the mall who have to go to work instead of being with their families. It’s a social issue.'

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
The Oshiland mall in Kfar Sava. Some residents warn against the city becoming "another Bnei Brak."
The Oshiland mall in Kfar Sava. Some residents warn against the city becoming "another Bnei Brak."Credit: David Bachar
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Dozens of business owners in Kfar Sava have filed a petition with the Lod District Court, asking it to order the Kfar Sava municipality to enforce its own bylaw that forbids the opening of businesses on the Sabbath.

Six months after the new Oshiland shopping mall opened in Kfar Sava, many of its stores are open on Saturdays. The petitioners claim that their livelihood has been adversely affected, with unfair competition and damage to the city’s social life. They maintain that their suit is not based on religious arguments.

The petition was filed against the Kfar Sava municipality by store owners, a group called Shabbat Shivyon, which tries to keep businesses closed on Saturdays, and a union representing independent businesses. Also targeted in the suit are Kfar Saba Mayor Yehuda Ben Hamo, the Oshira company which runs the mall, as well as specific stores in two malls.

The opening of the mall six months ago changed the status quo in the city. Other similar malls in Herzliya, Rishon Letzion and Glilot are closed on Saturdays. Another Kfar Sava mall that was previously open on Saturdays was also the subject of litigation in 2002, ending up closed on that day. The nearby G mall remained open in a city where 85 percent of the residents are secular.

The new Oshiland is much larger, offering a wide variety of stores, bakeries and food outlets, as well as restaurants, cafes and attractions for children. Social networks associated with the mall invite shoppers to come on the weekend and enjoy a great experience.

“Ever since the mall opened, merchants on the main streets of Kfar Saba have noticed much less shopping traffic. Opening of earlier malls started reducing the number of shoppers in the city’s major streets, and Oshiland has only intensified this trend. The oldest mall in the city’s center is closed on Saturdays, and merchants there worry about the expansion of weekend commerce in other locations” wrote attorney Uri Paz in the petition.

Dina Gonen, who sells bedding on Weizmann Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, says she’s suffered a 30 percent drop in sales since the new mall opened. “People go there instead of coming to us. These aren’t equal business opportunities or fair competition, and it’s not about religion. People prefer to shop on Saturdays. Old clients apologize and say they’ve shopped elsewhere. It’s more convenient there. This main street has become deserted. The mayor is breaking the law, which is why we’ve turned to the courts,” she told Haaretz.

Dina Unreich, who owns a long-standing children’s clothing store and is one of the leaders of this campaign, also says that this is a campaign for equality, not about religion. “I’m a religious woman but I have no problem with cinemas and cafes being open on Saturdays. People can enjoy themselves and it doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is the inequality in business opportunities. It’s not fair to us or to workers in the mall who have to go to work instead of being with their families. It’s a social issue. If there’s a law it should be adhered to.”

"It is madness for the owners of giant retail chains and shopping centers to be able to trample both the Law for Work Hours and Rest, and the workers who just want to relax on their day of rest," stated Roi Lahmanovitz, head of the Saturday Equality Coalition. "It is unthinkable for these elements to create a new caste of people forced to work in trade on their day of rest, or find themselves without livelihood. The weakness of the enforcement system against these lawbreakers in the State of Israel leads to seeking succor in the courts."

The city of Kfar Sava stated that it adheres to municipal ordnance allowing businesses classified as "places of public entertainment", which includes restaurants, cafes, theaters and cinemas, to open on Shabbat. The city added that it utilizes every means at its disposal to enforce the provisions of the law.

The Oshiland center commented that it does not and did not force its tenants to open on Shabbat – like at other commercial centers around the country, each store can decide for itself. It's like centers in industrial zones such as Cinema City and Yes Planet, Oshiland said, not like trade inside the cities or in the streets. Only Herzliya and Eilat have malls that open on Shabbat: "Oshiland is not a mall and is not inside a city," it stated. "For example, in Tel Aviv the malls and street trade close on Shabbat, but in the Tel Aviv Port and Sarona market, they are open."

The closure of businesses on the Sabbath in Israel is under municipal authority. The law authorizes municipalities to pass bylaws which determine opening and closing hours on days of rest.

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