Four municipalities were informed Sunday that Interior Minister Aryeh Deri has vetoed bylaws passed in their cities that would have formally legalized the opening of businesses on Saturdays, the Jewish day of rest.
The four cities—Holon, Givatayim, Herzliya and Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut—join Rishon LeZion, which received a similar notice a month and a half ago. Rishon and Holon are petitioning the High Court to force Deri to approve their bylaws.
The Interior Ministry explained that Minister Deri rejected the proposals because the municipalities were unable to satisfactorily explain why it was necessary to open the businesses on Shabbat, as well as whose interests it serves.
Such a requirement is part of the Supermarkets Law, which was approved by the Knesset at the beginning of the year. It grants the interior minister veto power over municipal bylaws having to do with Shabbat observance in the public sphere.
A statement from Deri's office said he considers it a “Jewish and social value to allow workers rest on Shabbat. In addition, the municipalities seeking to allow businesses to open on Shabbat did not prove that there was a need for it, as mandated by law.
“It should be noted that the enforcement of businesses operating on Shabbat is under the sole authority of the municipalities. The Interior Ministry has no authority or ability to enforce this,” the statement said.
In a letter written to the Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut Municipality Interior Ministry Director-General Mordechai Cohen charged that the purpose of the bylaw was to legalize the operations of businesses which have been ignoring the law for years by opening their doors on Shabbat.
“We are talking about legislation that encourages and promotes criminal behavior, thereby harming the rule of law. Its significance will be that those businesses will now be awarded with legalization after years of ignoring the law,” Cohen accused.
Modi’in Mayor Haim Bibas said in response that “the Interior Ministry is engaging in cheap politics ahead of elections in order to gain votes. The minister does not have the authority to veto bylaws, definitely not that which have been enacted before the Knesset’s legislation (the Supermarkets Law) seven months ago.”
According to Bibas, “The law states that the minister has 60 days from the time the bylaw was approved to issue his objection, and he did not do that. Furthermore, several municipalities sought the minister’s response to their legislation, after the 60 days, and they were ignored.”
“Therefore this is an attempt by the Interior Minister to use Shabbat for the purpose of political gains. We will appeal to the High Court in order to protect the citizens of Israel,” Bibas said.
The local authorities petitioning the High Court stated that Deri’s actions are “a gross interference in local affairs and a violation of democracy.”
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon have given Aryeh Deri the keys to close businesses in Israel on Shabbat,” said Uri Kedar, Chairman of Israel Hofsheet (Be Free Israel).
“After choosing to harm various minority sectors of Israeli society, they have now declared war on the majority of the population, those that do not intend to observe Shabbat as it is observed in Bnei Brak,” Kedar said.
Kedar also warned that if the Supermarkets Law is not changed, those responsible will pay a political price. He called on municipal officials to join in the struggle for “a sane and free Israel.”
Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah (a religious Zionist movement) accused Deri of adding to the divisiveness between religious and secular Israelis with regards to Shabbat in the public sphere. They noted that since the Supermarkets Law was passed, not one store has, nor will be, closed. They called on local politicians to avoid getting bogged down in a “civil war” because of Deri and instead allow for a healthy dialogue on the matter of Shabbat in the public sphere.