The Coalition for Shabbat Equality, which was formed this year, held its first press conference on Monday in Tel Aviv.
Arutz Sheva was on hand to talk with Zvika Oren, former President of the Israel Manufacturers Association, about the Coalition's work in trying to ensure that the Sabbath day of rest on Saturday is protected as a day off for workers.
Aside from Oren, members of the Coalition include Avi Katz, owner of Cofix and Super Cofix cafes, Yehuda Leniado, CEO of the Osher Ad retail chain, Yair Korach, head of the merchant's union, as well as many owners of small stores on the coast, social activists and academics.
The Coalition was established after certain stores were allowed to breach Israeli employment laws forbidding labor on Shabbat, and thereby received an unfair advantage on their competitors that observe the state laws as well as Jewish law.
Oren noted that the weekend in Israel includes two days, and already one of those days, Friday, is a regular work day.
On Saturday, "everybody is concentrating only on having a good time and rest, and being with their families, and this is what we want…Saturday should be a rest day," said Oren.
He argued that allowing employment on Shabbat greatly harms workers' rights and business equality, in that "by giving somebody choices" to make employees work on Shabbat "you make them take those choices," for in order to compete their options are limited and they eventually are forced to submit.
Regarding the impact on the economy, Oren noted that some like Internal Affairs Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) want to extend the weekend so as to give employees the opportunity and leisure time to be consumers as well, and thereby help the economy, in a move meant for those workers who do not observe Shabbat – during which handling money and conducting business is forbidden by Judaism.
"On the other side," he noted there are those who say that not giving a full day of rest every week affects the concentration of workers and their productivity.
"In my personal point of view, as I'm a traditional guy and I think that Shabbat is very important, it is a symbol which unites us as a Jewish nation, but it's my view. …I'm here to talk as an industrial guy who thinks the employees should rest."
The Coalition is aiming to fight against having stores open on Shabbat by pursuing legislation meant to completely distinguish between leisure and cultural activities that are allowed to remain open on Shabbat by law, and commercial activity that is to be forbidden.
Katz, owner of Cofix, said, "those who work on Shabbat are cashiers, ushers – the workers who are at the bottom of the employment food chain. I believe that the state of Israel needs to enjoy the Shabbat, to preserve it and rest on it."
Adding to that sentiment was Laniado, CEO of Osher Ad, who said, "while I manage a chain that has a religious haredi character, on this topic I think I represent all the chains and business that don't open on Shabbat, when I say that discrimination has been created favoring people who disregard the law and cause financial damage to those who observe (the law) and don't open their businesses on Shabbat."