On Tuesday, 9 January 2018, in a night-long marathon session, the Knesset approved a law, which authorises the Minister of Interior to either endorse or reject municipal regulations related to opening convenience stores on Saturdays. Although the government claims that it does not change the status quo at all, the law overrides powers of local municipalities.
Approved by a majority of one vote, the Shabbat Law provides that all municipal regulations, i.e. those legally approved by municipal councils for respective cities, will not be published in the Israeli Official Gazette. In other words, municipal regulations will not enter into effect unless they are approved by the Minister of Interior. These regulations provide for allowing convenience stores which sell food supplies or provide catering services on Saturdays and Jewish holidays. These also include entertainment facilities, such as cinemas, art avenues, circus centres, and sports clubs.
The Shabbat Law has provoked controversy in the political arena as well as among major municipalities. It will prohibit municipal regulations from being enacted to the effect of allowing a number of convenience stores to stay open on Saturdays and Jewish holidays.
Yisrael Beiteinu, chaired by Minister of Defence Avigdor Lieberman, stated that the Shabbat Law had not been part of the coalition agreements. The fact that it was approved by the government violates the agreement that every law, which was not provided under the coalition understandings, must be approved by all parliamentary blocs on the coalition.
However, religious parties, particularly Shas and United Torah Judaism, insisted to enact the law, indicating that it was tailored to reduce the phenomenon of opening convenience stores on Saturdays and Jewish holidays.