(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In the Torah, God commands the Jewish people to work for six days and rest on the seventh.
In politics, it is up to politicians to work together six days a week for the good of the public.
On the seventh day, the politicians are supposed to rest, but they often bicker instead.
Such was the case in September 1999, when United Torah Judaism left new prime minister Ehud Barak’s government,because he permitted a massive turbine to be moved on a major highway on Shabbat.
At the time, both Barak and UTJ stuck to their principles and refused to compromise, beginning the crumbling of Barak’s nascent coalition.
That turbine has been recalled nonstop since Thursday, when UTJ and Shas began threatening to bring down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over the work done by Israel Railways over Shabbat. The same UTJ MK Moshe Gafni who shouted then, is shouting now.
But the difference between then and now is nearly as clear as the contrast between a Tel Aviv beach and Bnei Brak on a Saturday afternoon.
First of all, the villain.
It was easy for the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) politicians back then to demonize Barak. After all, he had the two despised Yossis, Sarid and Beilin, in key positions of power as ministers of education and justice, respectively.
No matter how many times he calls Transportation Minister Israel Katz a liar, Gafni cannot paint him as a new Sarid, Beilin or another hated Yossi – the late secularist justice minister Yosef “Tommy” Lapid.
Had Katz wanted to advance a secularist agenda, he could have initiated public transportation on Shabbat years ago. Instead, he has been the protector of the status quo on matters of religion and state that the haredi parties cherish.
UTJ will not demonize Netanyahu either, especially after he has given them anything they can ask for since his government was formed last year. If anything, their criticism of Katz is intended to please Netanyahu, who is angry at him for using Likud institutions against him.
That is the second reason now is not like 1999. Happy couples tend to not get divorced.
UTJ has repealed nearly all the legislation and decisions of Yesh Atid, including laws that would have forced many more in the haredi sector to serve in the IDF. Its constituency is being served very well, and this government is still young.
The final reason UTJ is not really leaving the coalition is that there is no significant ideological divide on diplomatic and security issues with Netanyahu, as there was with Barak.
While the turbine on the Sabbath is remembered as the reason for UTJ’s departure, the party was also angry that prospective peace agreements with the Palestinians were prepared on the Day of Rest.
With all due respect to Sunday’s reports on invitations for peace talks from the Russians, there does not seem to be a hurry to reach an agreement with the Palestinians that cannot wait for Saturday night.
So chances are UTJ will continue to rest easy in Netanyahu’s government, both on Shabbat and during the rest of the week.