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>Israel Faxx
>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 kosher.

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 of contract.

"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 night."

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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