Interior Minister Gideon Saar railed on Facebook against what he called the Tel Aviv Municipality's deliberate attempt to undermine his authority and order that all markets in Tel Aviv be closed on Shabbat. Writing Sunday, Saar slammed the city's enforcement of orders to ensure that food markets remain closed as required by law as “another 'bluff.' They said they would enforce the law but ended up giving out only trivial fines, which no one will heed.”
In response to a court decision on a long-standing lawsuit by Tel Aviv business owners against large chains that operate on Shabbat, Saar ordered that supermarkets that do business in the city close for holy day. The lawsuit claims unfair competition; storeowners who brought the lawsuit, which has been in the courts for years, say they cannot afford to hire personnel for Shabbat, and that it was unfair for some retailers to benefit by flouting the city's bylaws, which require the stores to be closed.
In a recent decision, the court sided with the plaintiffs, and has ordered the municipality to enforce the bylaws. Those bylaws requires businesses to close from the onset of Shabbat at sundown Friday, and to remain closed until Shabbat is over. The law does not apply to restaurants and places of entertainment, which are allowed to operate. Pharmacies and other “essential” businesses can apply for a permit to operate on Shabbat, which is usually granted.
Saar demanded that the city take significant steps to keep the stores closed, to the extent that they be closed down by city marshals for violating the by-laws. Instead, inspectors distributed fines of NIS 730 to several businesses, a move Saar said was “ridiculous.”
Writing on Facebook, Saar said that the argument made by storeowners who remain open on Shabbat that they were “fighting for freedom of religion in Tel Aviv is also ridiculous. Of course,” he said facetiously, “their concern is for their 'principles,' not money. But the rule of law is not a principle to be bandied about by sectors of the population for their own political convenience.” If Tel Aviv was interested in allowing stores to operate on Shabbat, he added, it need to go through the appropriate legal challenges, and not ignore the law – or his orders, which were issued on the basis of the court decision, he added.