Coalition Says Bill Barring Opening Stores on Shabbat Will Pass Knesset Vote Monday

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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

After a compromise was reached on the wording of the so-called supermarkets bill, which would regulate the commerce permitted on Shabbat, coalition members say they can muster up a slim majority to pass it into law on Monday.

Under the compromise, convenience stores at gas stations will be permitted to remain open on Shabbat. However, the law will also apply to the city of Eilat, against the wishes of Tourism Minister Yariv Levin.

A coalition source said Sunday that 59 MKs will support the bill, while 57 will oppose it. (The coalition numbers 66 MKs to the opposition’s 54.) The vote on the law was inserted into an already crowded Knesset agenda. Because there will be ongoing votes on the bill, any momentary absence from the plenum by an MK could put the bill at risk.

The ultra-Orthodox parties object in principle to the compromise because the new wording legitimizes Shabbat desecration. The only way to change the wording of the bill now, however, is for the plenum to approve the objections filed against the clause exempting gas stations. This means that the Knesset will be debating and voting on a bill whose final wording is not certain and will only be clarified in the plenum.

“We have to support the supermarkets law and pass it this week,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of his Likud faction on Sunday. “There are commitments by the coalition and they must be upheld to continue maintaining the government.”

Senior Likud officials have been sharply critical of the law, warning that the party’s support of it will chase voters into the arms of Yesh Atid.

The most vehement objections came from MK Sharren Haskel, who announced that she won’t be present for the vote. “The supermarkets law is a law by a party that barely passed the electoral threshold and is forcing a way of life on an entire public,” she said. “It’s a law that differentiates between cities, deepens the secular-Haredi rift and fans the flames of the difficult dispute from the 1990s over the character of the state.”

Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, who is weighing a run for the Tel Aviv mayoralty, was also critical of the bill, saying he “sees in the current version of the bill a blow to the status quo and a substantial undermining of the relations between the communities that make up Israeli society.” Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel also criticized the Likud’s support for the move, but neither minister is expected to break coalition discipline.

Yisrael Beiteinu has already expressed its opposition to the law, and four of its MKs plan to come to the plenum and vote against it. Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver will not be present for the vote, since as a member of the government she would be obligated to support the bill.

The coalition is still waiting to see how two MKs from Kulanu plan to vote. Tali Ploskov has already announced that she plans to oppose the bill, while Rachel Azaria is deliberating, although observers believe she will vote with the coalition in the end. MK Orli Levi-Abekasis, who as an independent MK can vote as she pleases, hasn’t indicated her intentions.

The opposition is also making an effort to get every MK to the plenum. MK Yossi Yonah (Zionist Union) will miss the vote because he observing the week of mourning for his brother.

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