Naftali Bennett
Naftali Bennett Flash 90

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) broke his silence on the issue of public Shabbat desecration in Israel and said that he supported implementing the Gavison-Medan Covenant, which would enable some businesses to open on Shabbat.

In an interview with the Religious Zionist weekly Matzav Haruach, Bennett said that religious coercion distanced Israelis from Judaism. "I am opposed to religious coercion," Bennett said, adding that he was "in favor of preserving the religious character of the state and the Sabbath. But we are in a society with people who don't agree with us".

"We have to sit down with all the different sectors of Israeli society and reach an agreement," continued Bennett. "I agree with the Gavison-Medan Covenant, and I will work to realize it through agreement and not coercion."

The Medan-Gavison Convenant was the product of understandings reached between Professor Ruth Gavison and Rabbi Yaakov Medan over the issue of regulating Shabbat observance in Israel. The agreement would enable some businesses to be open on Shabbat, such as restaurants, while keeping public transportation and government offices closed.

Currently, the law in Israel only allows places of entertainment and restaurants to open on Shabbat, but many businesses utilize the fact that the law is hardly ever enforced and stay open as well. Large malls and supermarkets are among the biggest transgressors around the country.

Bennett had been noticeably silent on the issue of Shabbat observance in Israel even after matter caused a coalition crisis earlier this month when Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (UTJ) resigned in protest of infrastructure work being done by Israel Railways on the Sabbath.

In addition, the haredi parties are attempting to pass the the “Supermarket Law”, which will grant the Interior Minister the powers to disqualify municipal bylaws promoted by the local authorities, effectively shutting down supermarkets that had been operating on the Sabbath with permission from the local authority.

Agriculture Minister and fellow Jewish Home MK Uri Ariel has openly criticized Bennett for refusing to take a stance on the issue of Shabbat observance in Israel. "We have not heard anything like this in the discussions on Shabbat matters, and we have not heard such statements on other issues that touch upon the core of a Jewish state as we want to live in. Unfortunately, we are blurring religious matters to a large extent" alleged Ariel.