Bill Aimed at Keeping Stores Closed on Shabbat Is Coercive

MK Micky Zohar's bill aimed at keeping stores closed on Shabbat violates basic tenets upon which the state of Israel was founded.

Likud MK Miki Zohar.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation this week approved a bill sponsored by MK Micky Zohar (Likud) that aims to make it more difficult for businesses to remain open on Shabbat. The bill provides for violators of the Work Hours and Rest Law to be fined three times the proceeds earned through their violation.

The bill is both benighted and ridiculous. After all, Likud chairman Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu loves to give top priority to what he refers to as life itself, but his party colleagues, along with the Shas and United Torah Judaism factions, have apparently decided to embitter life itself for many of the people living here.

While the Law of Return gives priority to Jews from abroad who come to Israel and want to be citizens, the proposed Shabbat law will chase abroad those citizens who are here but want to live freely. The same government that seeks to blur the geopolitical status quo by occupying the territories and building settlements seeks to sanctify the nearly 70-year-old status quo on issues of religion.

Based on that conservative arrangement, what was, is what will be; for example, in Haifa there will be public transportation on Shabbat, but not in Tel Aviv. For some reason, however, that same status quo agreement, which at the time allowed 400 yeshiva students to avoid the military draft, has been violated in spades by allowing tens of thousands to evade army service.

Their counterparts serving in the Israel Defense Forces come home for Shabbat – and not every Shabbat – to discover that their desire to pursue leisure activities, shop, or travel is stymied. It will be interesting to see whether the government will dare confront the soccer fans among its supporters, or whether soccer will be kept out of the reach of the Shabbat inspectors.

When the United Nations voted on the partition plan that was to establish the State of Israel (alongside an Arab state) in the territory of the British Mandate, the new entity was expected to draw up a constitution. Israel has not done so because the religious parties argue that the Torah is the constitution, just like in the theocratic Muslim countries. As a partial substitute, several basic laws were passed that were meant to ensure, inter alia, freedom of occupation and human dignity and freedom. These values trump the religious rituals that Zohar and his cronies want to impose on others.

If Israels secular residents tried to force the religious people who live here to work on Shabbat, that would of course be antireligious coercion. Zohars bill is also coercion, as it forces rest on those who arent interested in that kind of rest.