Political crisis over Shabbat work reemerges as Netanyahu halts train construction

PMO accuses Transportation Minister Katz of "deliberating attempting to create an unnecessary crisis with the ultra-Orthodox to destabilize the government."

September 2, 2016 19:18
2 minute read.
Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz ride an Israel Railways train. (photo credit: ELIYAHU HERSHKOVITZ/POOL)

A political crisis between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Israel Katz again erupted late on Friday afternoon over the contested issue of construction on train lines during Shabbat.

The kerfuffle between the two Likud members ensued shortly before the Sabbath entered as Netanyahu ordered work on railway infrastructure to be suspended during this Shabbat.

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The premier ordered a decision on the matter within 72 hours as questions were raised about the possibility that Netanyahu would fire Katz from his post. 

"The prime minister made the decision after receiving conflicting reports from the Transportation Ministry over the need for work on Shabbat - contradictions that have created a crisis of confidence with Minister Katz," Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

The Prime Minister's Office accused Katz of flipflopping on the issue and "deliberately attempting to create an unnecessary crisis with the ultra-Orthodox to destabilize the government."

"Just a month ago, Katz met with the leaders of the haredi factions and promised them that no work activity would be conducted on Shabbat," read a statement from the PMO that added: "Shortly thereafter, following Katz's failed attempts to take control of the Likud, the transportation minister stunned the heads of the haredi factions when he gave instructions to carry out dozens of work operations on Shabbat."

A source from the state-owned Israel Railways firm responsible for the trains said some 20 work permits defined as essential were prepared for this Shabbat.

Earlier on Friday, politicians from the left-wing Meretz party protested the weekend stoppage of work on railways, threatening to file a multi-million shekel class-action suit "if the infrastructure work is not conducted as necessary."

In addition, the center-left Zionist Union party criticized the move for posing obstacles to IDF soldiers who need public transportation on the outset of Shabbat on Saturday night to return home and travel to their bases.

The party's leaders, Issac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, accused Netanyahu of issuing his decision as a move aimed at protecting his political survival.

"Israeli soldiers protecting our security have become an instrument of attack in the ego game of the ministers in this government," charged Herzog.

Livni added: "There must be a balance between the importance of [observing] Shabbat and the ability of soldiers to get home to their families and return to base. The state of the Jewish nation is not monopolized by the haredi parties."

Last Thursday, the heads of the haredi parties threatened to leave the coalition if the government did not become more stringent on prohibiting work on the Sabbath.

However, last Friday Netanyahu prevented a coalition crisis after a long night of negotiations on the matter with Katz and haredi parties.

Last week's compromise concluded that construction along the Ayalon Highway would continue to take place on Shabbat, because the road is congested on most weekdays and the work would endanger lives.

However, construction on train lines that would not endanger lives, like between Ben-Gurion Airport and Modiin or between Bet Yehoshua and Atlit, would not take place on Shabbat.

Dana Somberg/Maariv Hashavua and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.

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