New Head of Secular Labor Party: Close Businesses on Shabbat
Shelly Yechimovich, the newly-chosen head of that bastion of Israeli secularism, the Labor Party, opposes one of the dearest principles of Israeli secularists: Yechimovich has made it clear on numerous occasions that she opposes businesses owned by Jews operating on Shabbat.
In a radio interview in Israel last year, when religious groups in Jerusalem fought the threatened operation an Intel factory on Shabbat, Yechimovich said that regardless of her religious convictions, she did not believe businesses should operate on Shabbat, the Jewish people's day of rest. “A weekly day off is a social directive, and it has nothing to do with it being a religious law or not. Shabbat is the most wonderful social justice law that was ever legislated,” she said.
Yechimovich cited the Jewish people's long association with Shabbat. “It is the Jewish people who provided the world with this gift,” she said in the interview. “Businesses are trying to violate this law by presenting it as a struggle between secular Jews and Hareidi Jews, but this is inaccurate. Every working person deserves at least one day off a week from their labors.”
Israel's "law on hours of work and rest” is a complicated hodgepodge of do's and don'ts, with confusing legislation on who can and can't work on Shabbat. In general, retail stores and offices are supposed to close on Shabbat, unless they get a permit that allows them to operate because of their importance to the economy and the country's security, or other reasons. Those laws, however, apply only to areas under the jurisdiction of a municipality or local council; they do not apply to kibbutzim, rural shopping centers, and often industrial zones of many cities, where most of the large malls in the country are located. Nor do they apply to businesses in the leisure and entertainment sector, such as restaurants, movie theaters, and the like. In addition, the law even within cities is violated regularly, and enforcement is lax.
Yechimovich has spoken out in the past on the patchwork system, and has advocated a much more extensive ban on businesses operating on Shabbat – not only because it forces Jews to work when they would probably prefer to be home with their families, and who come in only because they fear losing their jobs – but also because it is unfair to religious business owners who lose out on potential profits to businesses that do open on Shabbat, and operate with less competition.
In the radio interview, Yechimovich said that coloring the issue as a religious-secular one was misleading. “I would want other secular people to join me in speaking out on this issue, as it is a simple issue: Observing Israeli law, based on a Biblical commandment, which is also a basic right of all working people.” In fact, she added, “I would want secular Jews to protest outside businesses that operate on Shabbat, decrying their taking unfair advantage of their workers. Unfortunately this hasn't happened yet.”