Jerusalem city inspectors in recent days have closed down dozens of food carts in the area of the Old City's Jaffa Gate where chametz – bread and other leavened products – were being sold. Non-Jewish Druze inspectors closed down about 20 of the stands on Shabbat, after the city received hundreds of complaints about the public display of chametz.
While Israeli law does not prohibit anyone from consuming chametz – indeed, there are numerous restaurants in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and other cities where Passover laws are not kept – it is illegal to publicly display bread and leveaned items out of doors, out of sensitivity to the Jewish majority. That includes areas where many non-Jews live and shop, such as Jerusalem's Old City, which has a large Muslim population, and this weekend was inundated with Christian tourists in the country for Easter. Hundreds of thousands of Jews have also been visiting the Old City, fulfilling the commandment of aliyah laregel, which entailed Jews' praying on the Temple Mount when the Temple stood.
Aryeh King, a member of the Jerusalem City Council and the head of the Jerusalem United party, said that he approved of closing down the food carts, even if they were owned by Arabs, and non-Jews were their only patrons. “The public space must remain chametz-free,” said King. “Arabs cannot be allowed to display their wares in the Old City as hundreds of thousands of Jews who care about keeping kosher pass by on their way to the holy sites in Jerusalem. I am happy that this year we have gotten a great deal of cooperation from the municipality on enforcing the laws against public displays of chametz.”
King said that he would continue working to enhance the holiday spirit for Jews who visit Jerusalem for the festivals. “On Sukkot, we plan to introduce a special discount card for those who visit the city,” he said.
In a statement, Yizhar Hess, chairman of a group that represents Conservative Judaism, called the law against public display of chametz “a bad law that forces non-Jews to act as Jews. It is a racist and mean-hearted law. Aryeh King may encourage seizure of chametz, but it is the municipality that is responsible for the enforcement. What would happen if the city of Paris would limit the sale of matzah by Jews? It is King who must remove the chametz from his heart,” Hess said.