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Israeli developer to close shopping mall on Sabbath

JERUSALEM, March 10 (JTA) — One of Israel’s largest developers has caused a stir in the business community with its decision to close a new mall on the Sabbath. The developer, Africa-Israel, is building a new shopping and entertainment center in Ramat Aviv, north of Tel Aviv. Observers have linked the decision to the recent purchase of Africa-Israel by business leader Lev Levayev, an observant Jew. The decision does not apply to other malls in which Africa-Israel has invested. However, the decision took a number of businesses planning to take part in the new mall by surprise. Israel Theaters, which plans to operate a movie theater in the Ramat Aviv mall, demanded that it be compensated by the developer for the projected lost weekend incomes. Africa-Israel said in a statement this week that there was no contract with the theater operator about opening on the Sabbath. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported Monday that Africa-Israel had signed a contract with the McDonald’s restaurant chain and had been paid in advance for three months rent. A six-page addendum, attached to the standard contract, included a clause giving the landlord authority to determine business hours on Jewish holidays and the Sabbath. The contract did not specify whether McDonald’s, which has both kosher and non-kosher restaurants in Israel, would be required to sell kosher products in its branch in the new mall. The dispute comes against the backdrop of stepped-up efforts by the Social Affairs and Labor Ministry, now under the control of the fervently Orthodox Shas, to enforce legislation prohibiting Jewish businesses from operating on the Sabbath.