Netanyahu coalition under threat over railway repairs on Shabbat

By
November 23, 2017 03:15

Israel Railways said that, unlike last week when a similar crisis was averted by using non-Jewish workers, this weekend more than 100 engineers and technicians who are Jewish are essential.

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TRAIN LINE maintenance taking place on Shabbat led to tense disputes in the Knesset this week.

TRAIN LINE maintenance taking place on Shabbat led to tense disputes in the Knesset this week.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz met with the heads of United Torah Judaism and Shas Wednesday night in an attempt to resolve a dispute over Shabbat train repairs that has put Netanyahu’s coalition in jeopardy.

UTJ head Ya’acov Litzman warned Wednesday that if any Jews work on train maintenance this Shabbat, he would quit the cabinet immediately. His associates noted that, because he is a minister, he shares collective responsibility for the government’s decisions.

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Israel Railways said that, unlike last week when a similar crisis was averted by using non-Jewish workers, this weekend more than 100 engineers and technicians who are Jewish are essential. Officials from the railway company said if the work is not done on Shabbat, trains would have to be shut down for a full day during the week, harming the commute of thousands of people.

Katz’s associates said he was confident professionals in his ministry could find a temporary solution. As a more permanent solution, Katz unveiled a new government bill Wednesday that would require Jewish tradition to be taken into account when work on Shabbat is decided by Israel Railways and other government bodies.

“Since I received the authority to give permits for work on Shabbat, I always found the necessary balance between necessary needs and the sensitivities of the public and the workers,” Katz said. “Changing the law would allow Jewish tradition to be considered along with the welfare of the workers and harming the public.”

After the compromise was reached last week for non-Jews to work on Shabbat on the Beersheba- to-Dimona railway line, it subsequently became clear that maintenance work had been carried out in Tel Aviv and other areas by Jewish workers.

Construction work is not the only matter to have aroused the ire of the Haredi parties regarding the Sabbath. Last week, Senior UTJ MK Moshe Gafni walked out of the Knesset plenum while voting was taking place on legislation because his bill to ban grocery stores from opening on Shabbat had not been advanced.

It remains to be seen whether or not he will take further punitive action against the coalition this week in light of the fact that his bill was not put on the agenda of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.


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