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'Supermarket bill' sparks tensions in Israel's Ashdod municipality

A Tel Aviv supermarket
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Critics of the law see it as an attempt to impose religious observance on the Israeli public

The Ashdod municipality is employing Jewish inspectors to enforce the closure of stores on the Jewish Sabbath, following legislation passed earlier this month that permits the Interior Minister authority to shutter businesses on the holy day.

Last week, Hadashot news reported that hundreds of non-Jewish inspectors were undergoing training in preparation for their role of enforcing the closure of shops on the Sabbath.

However, according to the Times of Israel, pictures of the fines levied on local businesses uploaded to social media depicted typically Jewish names such as Maimon, Edry and Dahan.

Store owners corroborated this and reportedly told Army Radio on Sunday that Jewish inspectors came to their premises.

EPA

With many local residents referring to appointment of Jewish inspectors as hypocrisy by the municipality. One Twitter use wrote: “The Ashdod municipality sends Jewish inspectors on Shabbat to enforce the law banning work on Shabbat,” adding, “if you need to summarize the stupidity of the Israeli government, this is the example to use.”

In early January, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) passed a bill into law with a razor thin 58-57 majority allowing the Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri who chairs the ultra-Orthodox Shas faction, to strike down municipal bylaws and shutter businesses on the Sabbath.

Despite internal wrangling within the ruling coalition a 15-hour filibuster by the opposition, the bill was passed.

The law will not affect the largely secular metropolis of Tel Aviv, which the High Court ruled in December 2017 could pass its own bylaws governing what stores may remain open on Shabbat.

Following the passage of the law Deri had said he would not enforce it due to the uproar it had sparked among the secular communities but the information revealed by Hadashot told a different story.

In a recording, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni can be heard informing the private meeting of the United Hatzalah emergency service that he had agreed to train hundreds of inspectors to enforce the law, in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Courtesy Ynet

On Saturday, thousands of residents of Ashdod took to the streets protesting the law with accusations that the municipality was engaging in “religious coercion” and discriminating against those who are secular. Chants of “Get your hands of Ashdod” were heard.

The city has seen a growth in the ultra-orthodox population in recent years,

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Yesh Atid’s leader, Yair Lapid both travelled to rally to express their support for the protesters. Liberman, who was condemned by the ultra-Orthodox parties for making the visit on the Jewish day of rest, warned that the law “will create an even bigger divide in the nation” according to Hadashot.

Critics of the so-called "supermarket bill" see it as an attempt to impose religious observance on the Israeli public.

At least five lawmakers from Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party had vowed to oppose or abstain during the vote, along with Sharren Haskel of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud faction.

Ultra-Orthodox parties form a central plank in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling coalition government, and the leader has sparked anger with his acquiescence to the groups on a range of issues.

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