Here in Israel, they say that Passover brings Jews together. Religious and non-religious, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Tel Avivians and Jerusalemites, the vast majority of Israel’s Jews will sit down to a Seder this evening.
Yet few people realize that Passover also spurs a certain unity between some of Israel’s Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. The holiday has some Israeli Arabs rooting for the Orthodox political parties, including the rightist and pro-settler Shas.
Jewish religious law forbids the possession during Passover of bread and similar products, known in Hebrew as chametz. In Israel, the sale of chametz in Jewish areas on Passover has been illegal since the enactment in 1986 of the Festival of Matzot Law. It states that bakery goods may not be displayed in public during the weeklong holiday.
But the law has seldom been enforced, and for years Shas, together with other Orthodox factions, has been on a crusade to change this situation. This Passover, Shas is in control of the Interior Ministry, and has instructed local municipalities to employ inspectors and fine anybody they find purveying chametz.
In an Arab bakery in Haifa this week, there was rare admiration for Shas. It’s simple economics. Arab bakeries used to do roaring trade during Passover, selling to Jews searching for chametz. But in recent years, the taboo on Jewish shops selling chametz has eroded, and chametz has become far more readily available on the Jewish market. Shas’ move to reverse this could mean a very happy Passover for Arab bakers.