Israel’s southern-most resort town, Eilat, is gearing up to fight the just passed “minimarkets law,” which limits the types of businesses open on the Sabbath.
Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevy (Likud) promised that shops would remain open on Saturday.
“The supermarket law won’t add or subtract anything,” Halevy said in a statement issued by the Eilat Municipality, threatening to go to High Court of Justice to prevent any changes. “Businesses in Eilat will continue to operate as usual. No business that has operated so far will be harmed or closed.”
The law, passed in the early hours of Tuesday morning, requires municipalities that want stores open on the Sabbath to get the interior minister’s approval. The current ultra-Orthodox interior minister, Arye Deri (Shas), does not plan to grant exemptions.
But the minimarkets law lacks new enforcement mechanisms against shops illegally open on the Sabbath. Many of those stores already pay small municipal fines.
“For years, there are many, many shops in Eilat that are open. And while they’re not allowed to be open, they’re open,” Aviad Hacohen, president of the Academic Center of Law and Science in Hod Hasharon, told The Jerusalem Post.
“The municipality can enforce [the law requiring stores to close], but they don’t want to enforce it. They don’t hear or see what’s open on Shabbat.”
Hacohen – a legal analyst who has consulted on the minimarkets law – added that he would advise municipalities to petition the High Court if the Interior Ministry tried to pressure them to bar stores from operating.
“Dozens of cities now have shops open on Shabbat,” Hacohen said. “Nothing happened after the High Court declaration [earlier this year that Tel Aviv could keep its minimarkets open], even for those [municipalities] that haven’t changed their bylaw.”
As thousands of members of the ruling Likud party descend on the beach town for their annual Likudiada gathering, Eilat’s mayor said the legislation could harm the 2.8 million tourists who visit from all around the world each year. He blasted his fellow Knesset representatives.
“Unfortunately, the Knesset chose not to exempt Eilat in the minimarkets law, even though most MKs and cabinet ministers thought that the city should be excluded, but they were forced to vote against their conscience because of political considerations,” Halevy said.
Eilat officials blasted Knesset politicians for spending millions of shekels in marketing the city domestically and abroad as a tourist destination, yet trying to tamp down on the tourist vibe for weekend visitors.
Last week, the city council approved an amendment to the municipal bylaws that permits shops in tourist areas to be open on Shabbat. Municipal officials pledged to “act in every way to exempt the city of Eilat from the minimarkets law, even in legislation, due to the unique characteristics of Eilat as a tourist city.”
Given that the law empowers the interior minister to make the final call, a more liberal or secular minister could grant approval to municipalities seeing commerce on the Sabbath.
One businessman, Aharon Adi who owns a seafood restaurant, The Last Refuge, expressed concern that the law could eventually force businesses to shutter in Eilat.
“Why should they [tourists] come now?” Adi asked, as reported by Walla! News. “This is a severe blow to the spirit of Eilat. We are making a living from tourism, and the blow is principally to tourism. The law is a death-blow to the city. There are no hi-tech plants in Eilat, everything is based off tourism.