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>JN April 29, 1997, Vol. 5, Number 76
Netanyahu Rejects Early Elections
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected opposition
calls for early elections despite the lingering fog of a corruption
scandal. In a further setback for the right-wing Likud party
leader, a public opinion poll for the first time showed a majority
of Israelis back a Palestinian state. "I have no intention of going
to early elections. I intend to correct what needs to be corrected
and move forward," said the prime minister.
Israel: Business vs Religion
By Patricia Golan (VOA-Tel Aviv)
What price religion? -- is the question investors in Israel have
been asking since an observant Jew bought a controlling stake in
the "Africa-Israel Investment Company" three months ago and started
to bring its policy in-line with Orthodox religious beliefs.
The Tel Aviv-traded property development firm recently decided its
shopping mall under construction in an upscale, secular
neighborhood is to be closed Friday and Saturday -- the Jewish
Sabbath. Since then, "Africa Israel's" share price has dropped and
Israeli secular activists have launched a campaign against what
they see as further religious coercion.
Workers are putting the finishing touches on a giant shopping mall
in Ramat Aviv, a wealthy suburb of Israel's largest city, Tel Aviv.
Ramat Aviv has become the latest symbol of Israel's ongoing
secular-religious battle, known as the Shabbat War.
Jewish religious law bans work on the Sabbath, which runs from
Friday evening to Saturday night. But most Israelis are not
religious and shopping centers open Saturdays do a brisk business.
Businessman Lev Leviev, an ultra-Orthodox Jew and a leading figure
in the Israeli diamond industry, paid $200 million late last year
for a majority stake in the Africa-Israel Company, which is
building the Ramat Aviv mall. Leviev decreed the shopping center
would be closed on the Sabbath and all its restaurants must be
Managers of the cinema and restaurants in the center, who had
signed contracts guaranteeing them the right to operate on the
Sabbath, objected. The owner of the "McDonald's" restaurant
franchises in Israel, Omri Padam, is suing the company for breach
"There is a culture of doing business in Israel. We as a McDonalds
would never dream to open a non-kosher restaurant in B'nai Brak,
which is a religious neighborhood of Tel Aviv. So, I think in the
heart of the secular area of Israel -- in the heart of Tel Aviv --
it is not exactly the place where somebody needs to force closing
on Saturday, or a kosher restaurant on other people. This is the
culture of business."
For McDonald's, and for the cinema complex scheduled to open in the
mall, closure on the Sabbath -- the only day off in Israel -- would
mean considerable loss of income.
In another battle front in the war for Israel's religious soul,
hundreds of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators clashed again on a recent
Saturday in Jerusalem, with police on Bar Ilan Street -- a main
road that runs through their religious neighborhood. The Orthodox
prohibition against Sabbath work extends to driving, though
apparently not to protests.
Bar Ilan Street has become a symbol of the culture clash between
Israel's religious and secular Jews. For the first time, the --
Shabbat War -- in Israel is becoming a nationwide struggle.
A member of parliament for the ultra-Orthodox "United Torah
Judaism" party, Avraham Ravitz, says he admires Lev Leviev for
sticking to his religious principles.
"If you break other Jewish morals principles, so with what are we
being called a Jewish state? Why did we wait so many thousands of
years, to come here and to rebuild a Jewish people in a Jewish
state? What does this mean for Jewish people. If I would be a
secular, I would be so troubled I would not be able to sleep at
Tel Aviv's mayor, Roni Milo, has threatened to boycott the mall if
it closes on Saturdays. Neighborhood activists have gathered
thousands of signatures protesting its closure on the Sabbath.
Shares in the Africa Israel Company have dropped since the Sabbath
closing decision -- shareholders are apparently worried mall
revenues will suffer. Company officials refuse to comment.
The issue for secular Israelis today seems to be whether business
people have the right to run their businesses as they see fit --
or whether consumers have the right to go to the movies or eat a
cheeseburger on a Saturday.
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