Only a quarter of Israelis support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his dispute with Transportation Minister Israel Katz over Netanyahu’s decision to suspend work by Israel Railways on Shabbat, according to a poll taken on Sunday by The Jerusalem Post's sister publication Maariv.
Panels Research asked 502 respondents representing a statistical sample of the adult Israeli population whether they supported Netanyahu or Katz in the dispute. Fifty-two percent said Katz, 25% Netanyahu, and 23% said they did not know.
Katz received the backing of an overwhelming majority of secular respondents, a large majority of people who define themselves as “traditional,” and a majority of Likud voters. Among self-defined Orthodox respondents, more said they “did not know” than those who back Netanyahu, who only received a majority from haredi (ultra-Orthodox) respondents, who backed him massively.
Sixty-one percent of respondents favor doing the work on Shabbat, 34% during the week, and 5% did not know, according to the poll, which had a 4.3% margin of error.
Respondents gave Katz good grades, with 62% satisfied with his work and 30% unsatisfied. Asked whether Netanyahu should fire the transportation minister, 62% said no, 12% said yes, and 26% did not know. Among Likud voters, the results were similar in this poll, but two other polls broadcast on Sunday found that even more Likudniks supported Katz.
After strongly considering firing Katz and even telling ministers on Saturday that he would, Netanyahu let Katz keep his job on Sunday. But in a meeting with Netanyahu’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz on Sunday afternoon, Katz was told his job was still not safe, and depended on a solution being found by next weekend over the Shabbat work dispute.
At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that ministers are appointed to prevent crises, not create them.
Netanyahu speaks at cabinet meeting
He spoke sitting right next to Katz, for whom his words were directly intended. Katz listened to the brief words stone-faced, at times looking at a note in his hands, at other times straight ahead, expressionless.
“This crisis was completely unnecessary,” Netanyahu said. “There was no reason to get to this situation. Israel has a status quo for many years [on religious issues]. We respect it. When work is needed to be done on Shabbat, it is done, as was done last Shabbat on the Ayalon Highway [in Tel Aviv]. When it does not need to be done, it will not be done. That is the rule that guided us in the past, and it will continue to guide us.”
Netanyahu pointed out that over the last seven years his government spent close to NIS 30 billion on transportation infrastructure: building new roads, overpasses and rail lines.
“We were able to do all that without unnecessary crisis,” he said. “When we don’t want a crisis, it is possible to prevent it. I expect on this issue full cooperation from all the ministers. Ministers are appointed to prevent crisis, solve problems, not create them.”
Katz did not speak at the opening of the cabinet session, nor to reporters on his way into the meeting. He noticeably skipped a meeting of Likud ministers before the cabinet meeting.
Netanyahu reportedly responded to a question about the crisis at the Likud ministers meeting by saying that Katz had told the haredi parties over a month ago that there would be no work on Shabbat, except in situations needed to save lives.
“In the meantime, there was an attempted putsch against me in Likud institutions that did not succeed, and then it turns out that work is being done on Shabbat and there is an attempt to incite the haredim against the government,” he said. “I will not let anyone carry out a putsch.”
United Torah Judaism MKs expressed support for Netanyahu in the dispute and accused Katz of lying to them. UTJ MK Uri Maklev said at the Knesset that he thought the dispute was nearly over.
After the political dispute over Israel Railways conducting track upgrades on Shabbat led to the closure of critical train routes Saturday night and Sunday, the Transportation Ministry stressed such work has been taking place for years.
“Professionally, I am surprised that the entire country today needs to be in a tailspin, even though nothing changed in our work for years,” ministry director-general Keren Terner said. “It hurts to see this madness, which damages the public.”
Each of the 20 railway operations that were slated to take place on Shabbat received the necessary work permit from the government, Terner explained. Arguing that the only person who must take under consideration the pros and cons of working over the weekend is the economy minister, Terner questioned why she, as the Transportation Ministry director-general, “needs to consider whether to hurt the public or not.”
“One of the operations, the one because of which we don’t have train movement at the moment, takes 28 hours – we had to stop everything,” she said. “They have already been working this way for years in conjunction with the economy minister. A critical service to citizens was damaged, and therefore, we received permission to work on Shabbat.”
One option presented to the Transportation Ministry was the idea of connecting some of the operations in question to other projects planned for the month of September, Terner explained. Doing so, however, would extend the operations another eight to 10 days, she said.
“If we are not required to do so, we do not work on Shabbat,” Terner continued. “This is not about officials, not about the transportation minister, not about the director-general of the Transportation Ministry.
“We were at a meeting with the heads of the haredi factions, we explained when we will work and the minister requested and instructed that wherever it was not required, work would not occur on Shabbat,” she added. “Even if the minister wanted, with every one of his bulldozers, he has no authority to approve or not approve work on Shabbat and absolutely cannot force it.”
Terner stressed she herself called the prime minister’s chief of staff in order to determine whether a cessation of work order was required, since none of the relevant permits were canceled.
Nonetheless, she emphasized that the transportation system was well prepared and was able to overcome the situation with minimal harm by increasing the number of buses operating, and connecting the periphery to the center by trains.
“Those who do not want us to work on Shabbat should actively change the law that allows it,” Terner said.