‘Bunch of pigs’ – Threat to shut down shopping malls over judicial reform backfires

“They can’t be forcing something like this on the public because it doesn’t fit the political agenda for the left-wing CEO,” says Religious Zionism MK.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Lawmakers and business owners expressed their outrage after the Big mall chain, which owns outdoor shopping centers throughout Israel, announced that it would shut down on Tuesday as a sign of their opposition to the expected advancement of a bill aimed at ending the “reasonability clause” often cited by the Supreme Court.

But after intense public backlash, Big quietly announced that it was walking back its intention to shutter its centers. On Monday morning, the Big group released a statement saying that it would permit shops in its centers to open on Tuesday, should they wish to do so.

Earlier this year, Big malls shuttered their parking lots and gates to their large shopping plazas, where national chain stores and small business owners rent storefronts, in support of a likely illegal strike called by the Histadrut to force a halt to judicial reform legislation.

Following announcements by anti-judicial reform activist groups that they intend to cripple the functioning of the country on Tuesday should the reasonableness bill pass an initially Knesset vote, Big released a statement on Sunday confirming that they would participate in the nationwide disruption.

Calling the bill “another step on the path to dictatorship,” Big said that “legislation like this would be a fatal blow to business and economic certainty in Israel, and will directly and immediately endanger our existence as a leading company in Israel.

“When the country is trembling and torn from within, we cannot sit on the sidelines,” the statement continued, echoing remarks from protest leaders that should the legislation advance, Big will “intensify our steps.”

The statement immediately produced backlash, with Big’s shares tumbling by three percent on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange within hours.

Numerous small business owners and proprietors of national franchises told Hebrew-language media that because Big would continue charging them rent for the day and would not compensate them for their losses, they planned to keep their shops open on Tuesday.

Rami Levi supermarkets, which have numerous locations in Big centers throughout the country, said that they “do not mix business with politics” and that their stores will be open and operating as usual.

As the landlords of the space, Big cannot force the business to close – but it can block off parking lots and entry gates to the shopping plazas, making it difficult for customers to patronize the stores.

MK Almog Cohen (Religious Zionism) said that he would leverage his parliamentary immunity to prevent the Big shopping mall in Beersheba from being closed.

“They are a bunch of pigs. They can’t be forcing something like this on the public because it doesn’t fit the political agenda for the left-wing CEO,” Cohen told Ynet on Monday morning.

“This is actually a very undemocratic step, I would even say it borders on dictatorship. I won’t let it happen… I will block them with my body and prevent them from locking the gates,” he said.

“It is not possible that they will use the residents of the Negev as their cash cows…earn billions of shekels, and when something doesn’t work out for them, they will force their opinion on the residents.”

Following the public outrage, including a protest by the Zionist Im Tirtzu NGO outside of the home of Big’s CEO in Tel Aviv, the retail giant changed its tune.

However, while the group said it would permit businesses that rent floorspace from them to operate – something that they were likely legally obligated to do, in any case – Big said that its centers would be “unstaffed.”

That could mean that guards and parking attendants employed by Big may not be permitted to work on Tuesday, posing potential logistical challenges to proprietors.