Minister Sa’ar, Drop the Religious Act and Leave Tel Aviv in Peace

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, December 11, 2012.Credit: Emil Salman

I believe Meir Sheetrit. This week the Knesset member from Hatnuah said Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s war on the people of Tel Aviv stemmed from an unethical political agreement that Sa’ar made with the ultra-Orthodox political parties.

It happened in June, in the Knesset, in the brief period between the first and second votes on the future of the presidency. Sa’ar, worried that Reuven Rivlin would lose to Sheetrit, approached the Haredi parties and made a deal: They would transfer their support in the presidential election, held in the Knesset, from Sheetrit to Rivlin, and Sa’ar would make sure that Tel Aviv’s kiosks and convenience stores closed on Shabbat and the Jewish holidays.

Sa’ar has firmly denied Sheetrit’s accusations, but I believe Sheetrit. His story fits in well with Sa’ar’s strategic plans — he intends to run against Netanyahu in the next general election.

Sa’ar found Netanyahu’s vulnerability: the Haredim. Netanyahu lost the ultra-Orthodox after he gave Finance Minister Yair Lapid license to abuse them, to cut their government stipends and funding for their yeshivas, and even to draft some of them into the army. Sa’ar wants to send a message to Likud activists: Only I can rise to power. Only I can pander to the religious vote and bring the Haredim into the coalition. I and not Bibi Netanyahu. I and not a ministering angel. That is why you should vote for me.

Apparently Sa’ar has already undergone an accelerated process of enlightenment. He says he “views observance of Shabbat as the implementation of one of the most important principles of Judaism,” and teaches us a Bible reading: “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” How ridiculous.

The new rabbi has forgotten what democracy is. It’s not a system in which the high commissioner dictates to 420,000 city residents how to live, when to work, when to buy and how to observe Shabbat. Who is he to meddle? What appalling paternalism. What infuriating arrogance. Who is he to force us to run to the stores by 2 P.M. on Friday to buy bread and milk before Shabbat? How much arrogance does it take to show such disdain for the decisions of Tel Avivans, who just 10 months ago reelected Mayor Ron Huldai, who explicitly declared he was about to change the municipal bylaws so that it convenience stores and kiosks could stay open on Shabbat legally.

Who does Sa’ar think he is? A new religious “philosopher,” who will change Tel Aviv from the city that never stops into sleepy, religious Bnei Brak? He should move there and leave us in peace.

Maybe Sa’ar doesn’t realize this, but his aggressive act constitutes a bill of divorce between him and the people of Tel Aviv, who will be unable to buy cheese and eggs for their child on Shabbat, or refreshments for guests who drop in unexpectedly. These are people who work hard all week, and are need of this crucial service on Shabbat. Even in Jerusalem there are convenience stores that stay open on Shabbat. So what does Sa’ar want, for Tel Aviv to be holier than Jerusalem? Let him move to Jerusalem.

Sa’ar is now at a critical juncture. Huldai surrendered to his pressure and reduced the number of kiosks and convenience stores permitted to stay open on Shabbat from 238 to 164. That’s a serious blow to the residents of Tel Aviv and their quality of life. It will reduce competition and raise prices on Shabbat.

Huldai should not have surrendered to Sa’ar’s megalomania. He should have gone to the High Court of Justice, and the residents should have taken to Rabin Square for huge demonstrations against Sa’ar. Imagine what they would have done in Bnei Brak had he dared to force them to open one small store, at the edge of the city, on Shabbat.

Just as God hardened Pharoah’s heart (I too studied Torah…), Sa’ar should dig in his heels and reject even Huldai’s abridged list. Then the public will wake up and take to the streets, and Huldai will be forced to turn to the High Court, which would probably prefer the good of the residents to Sa’ar’s cynical political considerations.

In any case, if he plans to sue Sheetrit, he should include me in the lawsuit. I believe Sheetrit.