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Plans to close shops over Shabbat put a strain on Israel's coalition

Proposed law pushed by Strictly Orthodox parties is struggling to find enough support in the Knesset

    A woman stands in line near a sign reading
    A woman stands in line near a sign reading "Not to see AM:PM closed", at a store of the same name Photo: Flash90

    A law that would permit the government to order shops closed on Shabbat failed to pass this week, throwing Benjamin Netanyahu’s government into further disarray.

    The bill, a key demand of Strictly Orthodox parties, is an attempt to bypass a High Court ruling that granted local authorities the power to decide whether convenience stores should open on Judaism’s day of rest.

    But it was postponed at the last minute after it became clear a majority of MKs would not support it as Strictly Orthodox parties demanded the law also apply to convenience stores at petrol stations and the tourist hotel area in the Red Sea town of Eilat.

    If a further attempt to pass it next week succeeds, the closure powers would transfer to the interior minister, Shas leader Arye Deri, despite strenuous objections from mayors and council leaders.

    But the Knesset is nearly evenly divided over the bill, making it difficult for the coalition to find enough votes to support it.

    A significant critic is the Yisrael Beiteinu party, a partner in Mr Netanyahu’s coalition whose MKs are planning to oppose the law.

    Two MKs from other coalition parties have also been absent: one is hospitalised, while a second is sitting Shiva on his wife, prompting Mr Deri to seek rabbinical authorisation to allow him to vote. Opposition parties have refused to “pair off” these members with their own MKs, further threatening the coalition’s majority.

    Shabbat was a cause for turbulence in Israel’s government last November, when Health Minister Yaakov Litzman withdrew his resignation at the last minute in a dispute over rail engineering works on Saturdays.

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