The government has no control over whether the Eurovision desecrates Shabbat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote in a letter to United Torah Judaism (UTJ) on Tuesday in an attempt to smooth over issues in coalition negotiations.
No parties have signed coalition agreements with Netanyahu thus far, a historically unprecedented situation after a month of negotiations.
UTJ seeks a commitment in coalition agreements that the government will not publicly violate Shabbat, in light of their recent protests against public construction works on Saturdays. The party canceled a negotiations meeting at the last minute last week, citing rehearsals for the Eurovision Song Contest on Shabbat.
The party pushed off another round of talks set for Tuesday, so that Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, leader of the Agudat Yisrael party in UTJ, and MK Moshe Gafni, head of the Degel HaTorah party, could update the rest of the faction about their meeting with Netanyahu the night before.
In light of UTJ’s concerns, Netanyahu wrote: “I would like to clarify that the Eurovision is an individual, international event that was set in advance according to international standards that are not in the control of the government and are exclusively managed by the Israel Broadcast Corporation [KAN].”
“The Israeli government is not interested in desecrating [Shabbat] and most of the participants in the event are from abroad and not Jewish,” the prime minister added. “The Israeli government respects Shabbat as the national day of rest and will continue to keep the status quo customary in Israel over the years.”
Meanwhile, Netanyahu and Likud negotiators have continued efforts to find compromises on matters of religion and state that haredi parties UTJ and Shas, as well as Yisrael Beytenu, can accept.
Yisrael Beytenu has demanded that DNA testing to determine Jewish status be outlawed and that the haredi IDF enlistment bill that passed a first reading in the Knesset last year pass unchanged. The bill sets increasing annual targets for enlistment and economic penalties for yeshivas if they are not met. Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said those points, along with several others, are not up for negotiations, and that he will only continue coalition talks if they are accepted.
UTJ MKs were unimpressed with Liberman’s rhetoric.
Gafni told Kan Bet: “If Liberman thinks that he can run the country with his five seats, he can keep dreaming. What is this that he suddenly wants the Knesset Interior Committee? We asked to lead the Interior Committee. We know the subject much better than he does. What does he know about it?”
MK Yisrael Eichler accused Liberman of “trying to torpedo a right-wing government.”
“I say, let’s go to another election,” Eichler suggested. “The Right lost a quarter million votes. The Left was smart enough not to lose [votes]. If we go back to elections and call on the Right to only vote for those who pass [the electoral threshold], we won’t be as needy and won’t have to give Liberman the Defense Ministry and the ability to force his opinions on the whole country.”
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon continued in his insistence that his Kulanu party be the last to sign a coalition agreement, as reported first by The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, and has not continued to negotiate with Netanyahu.
The reasoning behind Kahlon’s reticence is that he seeks to return to the Finance Ministry, but he wants to see whether other parties’ agreements include major expenditures that would require raising taxes, which he does not want to do.