The first part of the compromise deal Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made with Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties this week, to deter them from leaving the coalition, reached a preliminary vote in the Knesset Wednesday.
The bill, proposed by United Torah Judaism’s Moshe Gafni and backed by Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz, would add religious sensitivities to the list of things the latter has to consider when authorizing labor on Saturdays. It passed a preliminary reading 43-32.
On Sunday, UTJ MK Ya’acov Litzman resigned as Health Minister, because he did not want to have the collective responsibility conferred on ministers when the government allowed railway repairs to take place on Shabbat. Israel Railways argued, and Katz agreed, that the Saturday work was necessary, because otherwise, the entire system would have to be shut down on a weekday, causing a nationwide traffic gridlock.
After Litzman’s resignation, Netanyahu sought to ensure his Haredi coalition partners, UTJ and Shas, would remain in the coalition, without alienating his non-Haredi base. The sides agreed that the aforementioned bill and another that would require all supermarkets except those in Tel Aviv to be closed on Saturdays. They also agreed to pass a bill allowing a deputy minister to control a ministry, so Litzman can return to his health portfolio without the collective responsibility. However, the Haredim would have to drop efforts to stop soccer games on Saturdays and rail work would continue.
In the plenum on Wednesday, Gafni pushed back against claims that his initiative is religious coercion.
“This bill doesn’t force anything on anyone,” he said. “When giving authorization for people- who need to rest- to work on Shabbat, [the Labor Minister] should consider this matter, too.”
Gafni pointed to first Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion and first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff, as advocates of Saturday as a day of public rest.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid slammed the bill.
“Gafni, when will you learn that all religious coercion bills do the opposite?” he argued. “You passed the Hametz law, and everyone started eating [leavened bread products on Passover]. You passed the Pigs Law, and 1,000 restaurants started serving ham and shrimp [which are not Kosher].”
“When will you stop harming Jewish traditions? ...We don’t need a law. Jewish traditions survived fine without you,” Lapid added.