PM to meet with religious party leaders in bid to resolve coalition crisis

Railway chief: Two-year delay if Shabbat work halted.

August 30, 2016 05:02
2 minute read.
Yaakov Litzman

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party sits with other ministers in Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government during a Knesset session, November 23. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with the heads of the United Torah Judaism and Shas parties on Tuesday in an effort to resolve a coalition crisis over Israel Railways work being done on Shabbat.

The meeting will be clouded by a letter written by Israel Railways CEO Boaz Tzafrir to Transportation Ministry Director-General Keren Turner, which warned that preventing work on Shabbat could cost taxpayers millions of shekels and harm tens of thousands of people.

Tzafrir’s letter warned that the opening of the fast rail line between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv could be postponed by two years, or that all rail lines in Tel Aviv and its southern suburbs could be closed down for four straight months.

He warned Turner that canceling the work at Tel Aviv’s Hashalom Station, which caused the current crisis last weekend, could alone cost the state at least NIS 10 million.

“Delaying development and infrastructure work of Israel Railways that was set to take place on Shabbat would cause grave harm directly to the public, significantly increase traffic on the streets of Israel, and massively delay the conclusion of giant national projects,” Tzafrir wrote.

The letter, which was first revealed on Monday morning by Army Radio, lists key projects that are currently being advanced on Shabbat, and the impact of stopping that work. According to the letter, there are projects whose stoppage could harm as many as 190,000 passengers.

The heads of UTJ obtained the letter and have been meeting with experts ahead of their meeting with Netanyahu. They intend to try to prove to the prime minister that Tzafrir is wrong and that such work could be done without breaking Shabbat.

“They claimed that work is being done on Shabbat to save lives, but we see from the letter that all they really care about is saving money,” UTJ MK Uri Maklev told reporters at an event in Jerusalem of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel on Monday.

Maklev vowed to prove to the prime minister that Israel Railways’ projects could even be done cheaper without breaking Shabbat.

Meanwhile, Channel 2 revealed Monday that Bayit Yehudi MK Uri Ariel’s agriculture ministry employs workers on Shabbat.

The report embarrassed Ariel, who tweeted Saturday night that work on Shabbat by a government body like Israel Railways could lead to a political crisis. His associates said it was important that a religious Zionist party defend the Sabbath just as much as the ultra-Orthodox.

Ariel responded that until the report, he was not aware that work was being done on Shabbat and that he would put a stop to it.

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