Editorial

Phoenicia Is Just the Start

FILE Photo: Workers at the Phoenicia factory, February 2, 2017.
Gil Eliyahu

For two years, the Phoenicia Glass Works plant in Yeruham has been facing a boycott by the Gur Hasidim. The Gur community has called on the ultra-Orthodox public to stop buying wine sold in Phoenicia’s bottles. Gur members also called on wine producers and food manufacturers to stop using the company’s bottles. As a result, Phoenicia has seen a drop in sales, and the losses may force it to shut down and lay off all 240 employees.

The boycott was launched because Phoenicia operates on the Sabbath; the factory has to work around the clock since its furnace cannot be switched off. This is of no interest to the Gur community, the largest Hasidic group and a major component of the United Torah Judaism party, whose senior representative in the Knesset is Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman. The Gur Hasidim are totally indifferent to the fate of the plant and its employees. The ultra-Orthodox group is demanding that the factory either turn the furnace off on Shabbat or discard everything made during that time. Either option would result in heavy losses and the plant’s closure.

>> Read more: Shabbat costs Israel tens of billions of shekels every year | Analysis 

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Over the past two years, the factory’s management has tried to reach an agreement with the ultra-Orthodox. Expensive automated systems were installed and only non-Jewish workers are employed on Shabbat. All was to no avail, and the boycott has continued.

Shuttering a factory with the attendant loss of livelihood for hundreds of people is particularly egregious given the employment situation in the south. Recently, the Harsa plant in Be’er Sheva was shuttered, and another factory in Yeruham, Emilia Cosmetics, is also at risk.

The problem is that this won’t stop with Phoenicia. If the ultra-Orthodox manage to beat Phoenicia, it will encourage them to address other businesses that operate on the Sabbath, and the list is long. There is also concern that the coalition agreements struck by the incoming government will shift the status quo on commercial activity on the Sabbath, which impacts several large and important plants, including some run by international companies.

United Torah Judaism’s list of demands regarding the Sabbath is long: a prohibition on any activity desecrating Shabbat that does not involve saving lives; fines for private entities that operate on the Sabbath; creation of a unit to enforce Sabbath laws; and the issuance of work permits to non-Jews alone, while giving a deputy minister from UTJ responsibility for issuing the permits.

If Israel had a responsible finance minister and a functioning prime minister, they would have long ago done the right thing, speaking out against this boycott, which inflicts harm on something so essential to people – earning a living. But Moshe Kahlon and Benjamin Netanyahu have remained silent. The government coalition is more important to them.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.