In a major blow to religious freedom, the Knesset passed the “Minimarkets Law” earlier this week. The controversial law passed by the slimmest of majorities, 58-57 votes, with some members of the government coalition voting against it.
The law empowers the Interior Minister to approve all new municipal bylaws, including regulations that allow businesses, such as minimarkets, to operate on Shabbat.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was among those who opposed the law. “I don’t want to open supermarkets on Shabbat in Bnei Brak and I don’t want to close them in Haifa. Bylaws should reflect the composition of the populations of the cities in which they are enacted.”
It remains unclear how aggressively the government will exercise their new power. Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri insist that nothing will change and that they will support the status quo.
Yael Yechieli Persico, Director of Freedom of Religious and Pluralistic Judaism at Shatil, fears that the religious political parties may feel strengthened by their success with the Minimarkets Law.
Shatil is working with the Forum for Free Cities, a network of activists, which was set up a year ago to coordinate the campaign against religious coercion in secular cities and raise awareness of the issue.
“The new law has been a wake-up call for many in the public who were previously indifferent on the subject,” said Yechieli Persico.
“We suddenly see a lot more people becoming active. We are targeting candidates in cities with a secular majority in October’s municipal elections for mayors and councils to ensure that candidates have a clear policy against religious coercion.”
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