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Israel approves plans to shut supermarkets over Shabbat

Interior minister granted power to order closures, but mayors say they cannot enforce the rules

    Under the new law the interior ministry could order supermarkets to close on Shabbat
    Under the new law the interior ministry could order supermarkets to close on Shabbat Photo: Flash90

    Israeli MPs have narrowly approved proposals that allow the interior minister to close supermarkets and grocery shops on Shabbat.

    The Knesset passed the bill, proposed by the Strictly Orthodox party Shas, in the early hours of Tuesday morning by a majority of one, following months of wrangling and a debate lasting 15 hours.

    It means Shas leader and Interior Minister Arye Deri can now order local authorities to close shops in their area between Friday and Saturday nights, although it is unclear whether he will actually move to enforce it.

    Many mayors and local council leaders oppose the law. They claim it is unenforceable, since they cannot send Jewish inspectors out on Shabbat to check whether shopkeepers are keeping their businesses open.

    Opposition parties Meretz and Yesh Atid are planning to petition the High Court, claiming the law is unconstitutional because it “forces all Israelis to adopt a religious lifestyle.”

    Mr Dery tweeted after the law passed that it was “not a ‘Haredi victory’.”

    “It is keeping the status quo and a victory for the silent majority in Israel who want to preserve the Jewish character of the state,” he said.

    The law also illustrated the present state of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition in which each party can force the rest to vote for its pet laws.

    United Torah Judaism MKs Moshe Gafni at the vote, which ended at 2.15am on Tuesday morning
    United Torah Judaism MKs Moshe Gafni at the vote, which ended at 2.15am on Tuesday morning Photo: Flash90

    Yet the government’s majority was in jeopardy for the Shabbat law after the members of Yisrael Beiteinu, a right-wing party that objects to religious laws, voted against it.

    Two other coalition MKs rebelled against the whip and were absent.

    The coalition succeeded in mustering enough members to win 58-57 in a vote that finally took place at 2.15am.

    The law was drafted after the High Court ruled last year that the government did not have the power to dictate to local authorities over trading on Shabbat.

    In the face of opposition from local politicians, the law became a symbol for Strictly Orthodox parliamentarians wanting to ensure “the Jewish character” of Israel’s public spaces.

    Many Likud lawmakers, ministers and mayors admitted openly that the law was unrealistic and could harm them with their voters, but Mr Netanyahu ordered the coalition whip David Amsalem to deliver the votes in an effort to please Charedi parties.

    Likud whips went as far as to initiate expulsion procedures against one MK, Sharen Haskel, who refused to vote in favour.

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