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Government targets stores open on Sabbath in Tel Aviv

JERUSALEM, Dec. 8 (JTA) — The battle over whether so-called “blue laws” should be enforced, keeping businesses closed during the Sabbath, has taken a new turn. On Saturday, inspectors from the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry raided snack bars and newsstands in the Tel Aviv area that were open on the Sabbath. In an effort to prevent the ministry itself from violating the Sabbath, the inspectors carrying out the checks were Druse Arabs, not Jews. Labor and Social Affairs Minister Eliyahu Yishai said the inspections were part of an effort to ensure fair competition. “There are many business owners in Tel Aviv who do not want to work on the Sabbath, and they complain that because their competitors are open on the Sabbath, they have no other choice,” he told the Israeli daily Ma’ariv. “The auditors are doing their work throughout the country, and will continue enforcing the law,” said Yishai, who is a member of the fervently Orthodox Sephardi Shas Party. Last week, after an Orthodox-sponsored rally was held Dec. 6 in Tel Aviv to prevent local businesses from desecrating the Sabbath, there were reports that the ministry was tripling the number of its inspectors. The head of the labor law branch at the ministry, Ephraim Kechalon, denied that the inspections were related to the rally. “The weekend raids had nothing to do with it,” he told Ma’ariv. “This was an audit which was planned months ago.” During their rounds, inspectors slapped citations on the baffled owners of two snack bars in Ramat Gan, a municipality adjacent to Tel Aviv. “We have been open [on the Sabbath] for the past eight years, and we were surprised to suddenly have auditors asking us for information,” said Meir Ofer, an employee at one of the businesses. “Our kiosk serves all of Ramat Gan. If they close our business on the Sabbath, I don’t know if we can stay afloat.” Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar said businesses that were open on the Sabbath did so with the consent of the municipal council, as part of the religious status quo. “In any event, the [auditors] cannot close the kiosks, only write up reports,” he said. The auditors also warned shopowners in northern Tel Aviv that the area would be a central target in coming weeks.