A bill to shut all business-related locations – from shopping malls to warehouses – on Saturday and holidays was unanimously approved on Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. The Weekly Day of Rest Bill is now to go to the Knesset for a first reading within days.
The bill is also to be considered by a special executive committee appointed by the government. The committee is supposed to complete this work within six months.
The new bill, spearheaded by MK Miki Zohar (Likud), calls for only entertainment and dining establishment being permitted to stay open: restaurants, cafes, cafeterias, theaters, movie theaters, gas stations and hotels.
Furthermore, the bill would forbid employers from stipulating that workers must be willing to work on Saturday in order to be hired.
Failing to abide by the bill would result in financial sanctions in addition to up to a year in prison or a fine equaling three times the income made by breaking the law – and no less than NIS 4,000 for any violation of the law.
"The bill is intended to prevent losses for all businesses that are not active on Saturday," said MK Zohar. "We will thus ensure that employees will not be forced to come to work on Saturday and will also be able to use the day as a day of leisure. The municipalities will no longer be able to do whatever they want."
Zohar rejected the possibility that the move would be damaging to Israel's four million secular Jews and Arabs. "Everyone will be happy for the Sabbath to become a day of rest and not a day of work. After all, that's how we lived until a few years ago. The majority of people don't even go shopping on the Sabbath and there's no reason for a clothing store to be open on the Sabbath. It's over. If they want to, they can go to a movie theater or café."
Other politicians were staunchly opposed to the bill. "The bill is draconian and violates the status quo, so the ministerial committee decided to tie it to the executive committee," said MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu). "The bill will thus fulfill the needs of the primaries that it was meant for and will not become a law."
"This is a bizarre bill that will finish, divide, and destroy Israel from within, and could lead to a civil war," said MK Yoel Razvozov (Yesh Atid)."The vast majority of Israel's Jews have fun and shop on Saturday without doing anything to hurt those who observe traditions. Israel will transform into Iran."
Asaf Zamir, deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, was also opposed to the initiative. "This is unacceptable intervention by the government in the fabric of the city and its resident's independence," he said. "Tel Aviv is an open and free city."
Kobi Cohen, CEO of the Super Yuda supermarket chain based in Tel Aviv, deemed the bill "populist" and meant to boost Zohar's political fortunes. "The secular public must not allow this bill to pass," he said. "This is a harbinger of bills to apply Jewish law to all of us."