Kafe Knesset for April 20

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Shabbat is back on the political agenda, following a High Court of Justice ruling yesterday which authorized a Tel Aviv municipality bylaw to open 165 businesses on Shabbat. The issue has been debated for almost three years, with various Interior Ministers stalling their approval of the local law since it relates to the sensitive issue of the religious status quo.

The ruling was celebrated and welcomed warmly by Tel Aviv Mayor, Ron Huldai who said: “Tel Aviv was free and will remain free.”

However, in Jerusalem, the ruling received the opposite response. The haredi parties reacted with anger and are demanding that the ruling be reversed. UTJ leader, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, said the decision is “a continuation of a gross legal intervention in the values of religion and Jewish law.”

Shas leader Aryeh Deri said that before the Pesach holiday he decided to disqualify the Tel-Aviv bylaw, but the High Court of Justice rendered its verdict before his decision was implemented. Deri wrote a letter to the Attorney General, in which he demanded an appeal and requested an expanded tribunal on the matter. Meanwhile he and his colleagues are already planning a bill which would bypass the ruling, and are demanding full coalition support for the legislation. All of the religious party leaders – Deri, Litzman and Gafni from UTJ, and even Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel in the modern Orthodox Bayit Yehudi, wrote another letter to the PM last night in which they protested the ruling as a “grave violation of the status quo” and demanded to summon a coalition meeting to discuss the matter.

“We will not give up or bargain away Shabbat,” a source in Shas told Kafe Knesset. “This is our baby. We support other parties’ agendas sometimes even though they are not necessarily our cup of tea. It is time our coalition partners do the same.” Other haredi MKs have even threatened to dissolve the coalition if they don’t get their way.

On the other side of the coalition, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman praised the ruling and said it is “proportionate as it enables the preservation of Shabbat as a day of rest but also gives many citizens the opportunity to spend their Shabbat as they wish. Since the country’s establishment, Tel Aviv has had a certain unique character and there is no reason for the state to interfere and damage the municipal fabric.” Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party is also predicted to oppose legislation on the topic, as it generally vetoes any move that undermines High Court of Justice rulings. On Sunday, in the weekly meeting of the heads of the coalition parties, tensions are expected to be high.

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