The cabinet once again dodged the thorny issue of Tel Aviv’s municipal bylaw that would open more grocery stores on Shabbat, and said it needs more time to decide on the matter.
In 2014, the Tel Aviv City Council approved a bylaw allowing more grocery stores to open on the sabbath, but none of the interior ministers since that time has given the required stamp of approval to the regulation.
A committee of was established composed of the directors of the Interior, Justice, Religious Services and Economy ministries, and chaired by Prime Minister’s Office director-general Eli Groner, to draw up options the government could adopt.
The first option is to accept Tel Aviv’s bylaw, which would allow some 160 stores to be open on Shabbat, while the second recommendation is to adopt the Tel Aviv law but with 20 fewer stores to be open.
The third option is to allow only convenience stores to be open along with three retail centers in the city.
The recommendations were discussed during the cabinet meeting on Sunday, but ministers raised difficulties with the proposals.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin argued that since there are proposals to unite the Tel Aviv and Bat Yam municipalities, the government cannot at this time approve the Tel Aviv bylaw, since it might in the future affect residents of Bat Yam who may be opposed to having increased numbers of grocery stores open.
The government will now request an extension from the High Court of Justice to submit its response to a petition by the Tel Aviv City Council demanding that its bylaw be implemented.
A hearing on this petition, and another opposing the bylaw from an association of small businesses, is scheduled for a hearing in the High Court by the end of the month, and the government was expected to file its response by the end of last week.
A senior government official told The Jerusalem Post that no one in the government wanted to deal with “the Tel Aviv Shabbat law hot potato,” while the cabinet’s failure to make a decision on the issue prompted criticism from activist groups.
“The government of Israel is choosing to evade its responsibilities instead of governing,” said the Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah religious-Zionist lobbying group, calling the connection between the bylaw and the possible unification of Tel Aviv and Bat Yam “unconvincing.”
Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah is in favor of a broad agreement to reform the way Shabbat is observed in the public domain, advocating compromises from both the religious and the secular segments of society.
“Instead of taking the necessary steps for a consensus arrangement on Shabbat, the government prefers that the High Court will rule on the issue,” the organization said following the announcement.
Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah also criticized the “Bayit Yehudi leadership,” which opposes the Tel Aviv bylaw, saying that it had been dragged into such a position by the haredi political leadership, which has called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reject all of the committee’s recommendations.
Mickey Gitzin, a member of the Tel Aviv City Council for Meretz and head of the Israel Be Free secularist organization, said that the government’s stance proved that no one thinks it is a good idea, or even possible, to “hermetically close down” Tel Aviv on Shabbat.
He added that the decision to allow the High Court to deal with the issue was an “inelegant evasion” by government ministers “who prefer to cast off responsibility instead of showing the leadership they were elected to undertake.”