Every once in a while, the intricacies of politics provides us with a delicious convergence of political interests. A few years ago, the Arab parties had made a deal with the ultra-Orthodox parties to support each other’s initiatives. The deal led now United Arab List MK and Hebrew scholar Ahmad Tibi to burst into a committee meeting shouting “It is an embarrassment and a disaster what we are doing to Judaism!”
This week we saw secular socialists finding common ground with religionists. For some time, the government avoided dealing with a Tel Aviv municipality decision to allow for some stores to remain open on what in Tel Aviv is known as Saturday and in Jerusalem as Shabbes. The decision requires the approval of the Minister of the Interior, but minister after minister did not make a decision. Eventually, the government removed the authority to decide from the Minister of the Interior in preparation for ultra-Orthodox MK Aryeh Deri’s appointment to the ministry. The move tacitly allowed the stores to be open on Saturday without forcing the religious minister to make a judgement. Problem solved!
Only not. Tel Aviv got frustrated with the unclear status of the decision and went to court to force the state’s hand and the Knesset held a discussion and a vote on whether to move the authority back to Deri.
And here’s where the different political interests collide. Two groups oppose the decision. Ultra-Orthodox representatives contend that allowing for businesses to open on Shabbes, violates the status quo between religion and state. Their concern with actions being taken far away from Bnei Brak or other locations where their constituents live is… touching?
Besides the religious argument, smaller businesses in Tel Aviv are complaining that allowing for businesses to operate on Saturday forces them to stay open to compete. Some secular MKs have expressed discomfort with setting a standard in which workers are pressured to work on Saturday though it seems that many of them don’t like those workers working from Sunday-Thursday either. It seems that the issue has managed the rare unification of secular and religious MKs.
However, the vote still went along coalition lines, with the religious MKs voting for the transfer of power back to Deri and the secular MKs opposed. The opposition mainly spoke about the need for public transportation on Saturday and, besides for MK Zehava Galon, did not go into great detail regarding the labor issues. It turns out that the wrath of Tel Aviv residents who get to go to the market on Saturday is scarier than the possibility of exploitation.
The transfer of power passed and it is hard to imagine Deri not insisting that the stores remain closed on Shabbat.