Transpotation Minister Yisrael Katz and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.
(photo credit: HEALTH MINISTRY,MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Transportation Minister Israel Katz vowed on Sunday to emerge unscathed from a political scandal over work conducted by Israel Railways on Shabbat.
Speaking to Knesset reporters on a tour of the tunnels being built for the high-speed rail line between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Katz said he did not take seriously reports that United Torah Judaism would insist on his firing.
“I assume that if you come back on this tour in another few months, you will do it with the same minister and not a different one,” he told the reporters. “I am in favor of maintaining the status quo on matters of religion and state, and I am dear to the haredi community, so most of the attacks on me on those issues are from the other side.”
Katz said he was not concerned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would use the scandal as an excuse to punish him for using Likud institutions against the premier.
“Sometimes you pay a price for your decisions, but that won’t happen here,” Katz said.
“I am not worried, because I was chosen to be near the top by Likud members. This isn’t narrow politics or the Likud Secretariat. It’s a matter of principle.”
The haredi political leaders– Interior Minister and Shas chairman Arye Deri, Health Minister and Agudat Yisrael chairman Ya’acov Litzman, and Degel Hatorah chairman MK Moshe Gafni – are still considering whether to demand that the prime minister fire Katz for his actions, in a meeting that is expected to be held in the next 48 hours.
In an interview published on Sunday morning in Yated Ne’eman, the mouthpiece of Degel Hatorah, Gafni said the haredi parties were in no way persuaded by arguments that it had been necessary to carry out the construction on Shabbat to prevent loss of life during the week.
In Jewish law, saving a human life overrides almost every other religious precept, including Sabbath observance.
“‘Saving a life’ is not a political term but a totally halachic term, and if it had been decided by someone who is accepted by us [to make such decisions] regarding Halacha, we would have been in favor of the construction work,” said Gafni, adding that it was “unthinkable that anyone can arbitrarily determine what is ‘saving a life.’” He also accused Katz of having deceived the haredi leaders, when in a recent meeting he instructed his professional team dealing with the issue to halt the construction work, and then without informing them otherwise or consulting with them further, gave the go-ahead for the work.
The haredi political leaders were particularly incensed at the news conference Katz held shortly after Shabbat, as well as the information and pictures he released of the construction work that was done.
“The expansive and unnecessary media festival around the construction and the press releases are particularly regrettable, which needlessly intensified the Sabbath desecration,” Deri, Litzman and Gafni said.
Katz responded that he followed the law, and that haredi politicians approved the work in advance. He also stressed that he did not drive on Shabbat to the news conference, and did not send a glider to take pictures of the construction on the Sabbath. Rather, he scolded Israel Railways director-general Boaz Tzafrir for doing so.
In an interview with Channel 2, Katz hinted that he was encouraged to stop the work from being done on Shabbat by Netanyahu himself, after work on 12 projects on Shabbat was approved.
Meanwhile, Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On called the crisis “fake,” and accused UTJ of exploiting it to receive for its constituency even more from Netanyahu’s government than it already has.