Dozens of Israeli Mayors Protest Bill That Would Prevent Shops From Opening on Shabbat

In letter sent to Netanyahu, Justice Minister Shaked and Interior Minister Dery, city heads say proposed law would cause 'severe harm' to Israelis

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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A convenience store in Jerusalem open on Shabbat, with a man wearing a kippah walking past it in 2016.
A convenience store in Jerusalem open on Shabbat in 2016.Credit: Emil Salman
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

Fifty-eight mayors have signed a letter protesting a proposed law that would allow the interior minister to cancel municipal bylaws governing commerce on Shabbat.

“The local governments vehemently oppose the bill in question, which seeks to change the existing relationship between the central government and local governments,” the mayors wrote, adding that the bill would cause “severe harm” to Israelis “by undermining local governments’ broad powers and drastically changing the status quo regarding business activity on Shabbat in local governments throughout the country.”

The letter was sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Interior Minister Arye Dery.

The government decided to enact the law under pressure from the ultra-Orthodox parties after the High Court of Justice upheld a municipal bylaw in Tel Aviv allowing a limited number of businesses to open on Shabbat.

The bill as written would not actually apply to Tel Aviv. But the ultra-Orthodox parties want it passed quickly to prevent other cities from allowing businesses to open on Shabbat. City councilmen in several towns have already begun working on bylaws to do so.

The letter’s signatories include several mayors who belong to either the ruling Likud party or its biggest coalition partner, Kulanu, both of which are backing the bill. But another party in the governing coalition, Yisrael Beiteinu, has announced that it will oppose the legislation.

The letter was signed by the mayors of most of Israel’s largest cities, including Tel Aviv, Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut, Rishon Letzion, Netanya, Petah Tikva, Be’er Sheva, Holon, Ramat Gan, Kfar Sava, Herzliya, Hadera, Ra’anana, Eilat, Tiberias and Dimona. However, there were two notable exceptions: Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav both declined to sign.

“There are almost no issues more local in character than business hours,” the letter argued, “and therefore, throughout the years, this has been under the exclusive authority of the city council members and mayor, whom the residents elected to deal with it. Moreover, this is a dramatic change in the status quo regarding business activity on Shabbat in local governments through the country.”

“For many years, thousands of businesses have opened on Shabbat in Israel,” it continued, including kiosks and convenience stories in major cities and shopping centers and malls in rural areas or on the outskirts of towns. “The bill almost completely eliminates our ability to enact bylaws for opening businesses on days of rest – and therefore, it will lead in practice to the closure of all the businesses that are currently active and have been providing services for years already to millions of people.”

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