UTJ snubs coalition talks over Eurovision work on Shabbat

“It cannot be that the government authorized work on the holy Shabbat when they’re sitting with us for coalition negotiations,” a spokesman for UTJ co-leader Moshe Gafni said.

May 7, 2019 01:07
2 minute read.
MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ)

MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) speaks at a finance committee meeting on January 15th, 2018. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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United Torah Judaism canceled a coalition talks meeting with Likud on Monday due to Eurovision Song Contest rehearsals taking place on the Sabbath.

“It cannot be that the government authorized work on the holy Shabbat when they’re sitting with us for coalition negotiations,” a spokesman for UTJ co-leader Moshe Gafni said.

The parties’ negotiating teams were scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. on Monday.

Rehearsals for the Eurovision began on Saturday in Tel Aviv and will continue on the following two Saturdays, culminating in a dress rehearsal before the contest’s finale on May 18. The only day on which the production is taking a break is Remembrance Day on Wednesday.

After Israel’s Netta Barzilai won last year’s Eurovision, UTJ spoke out against holding the 2019 event in Israel, because of the Sabbath desecrations that go with it.

Observing Shabbat has been a major political issue for UTJ in recent years, with the bloc’s co-chairman Ya’acov Litzman demoting himself from Health Minister to Deputy Health Minister to not be part of a government that authorizes public construction work - such as the Yehudit Bridge across the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv - on Shabbat.

UTJ has demanded in coalition talks that no such work take place on Saturdays.

This delay, along with unresolved disputes between potential coalition partners and the Remembrance Day and Yom Haatzmaut holidays this week make it likely that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will ask for a two-week extension for coalition negotiations after he reaches the first deadline on May 15.

Another UTJ demand, together with Shas, to maintain the status quo by which haredim are not subject to the mandatory IDF draft, has been one of the major obstacles in the current round of coalition talks, with Yisrael Beytenu making its membership in the coalition conditional on passing a law setting increasing annual targets for haredi enlistment.

Likud’s negotiators have come up with a compromise and are waiting for a response from Litzman’s rabbi, the head of the Gur hassidic sect, Channel 12 reported.

Likud’s negotiating team met with the Union of Right-Wing Parties’ representatives as scheduled on Monday.

URP’s demand that MK Bezalel Smotrich become the next Justice Minister is another sticking point in coalition talks. Netanyahu prefers to give current Tourism Minister Yariv Levin of the Likud, a close ally of the prime minister and leader of his negotiating team, the portfolio.

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