Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Moshe Gafni.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu weighed in on the controversy surrounding the Shabbat construction work for a Tel Aviv footbridge, which was frozen by Transportation Minister Israel Katz on Wednesday.
Speaking before he left on a visit to Lithuania on Thursday, Netanyahu implicitly opposed closing down the Ayalon expressway on a weekday to carry out construction work.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable to close a traffic artery in the middle of the week on the Ayalon,” said the prime minister. “I think this much is clear and will be taken into account. I don’t think there will be any disruption to traffic.”
The Tel Aviv Municipality, together with the Ayalon highway authority, plans to construct a footbridge across the Ayalon to connect the west and east of the city divided by the highway, making it easier for pedestrians to reach either side and thereby reduce road traffic.
The construction of the bridge requires closing the highway, and the project planners had scheduled the construction work to be spread over six consecutive Saturdays beginning this month.
Strident opposition from haredi MKs
ostensibly led to the suspension of these plans for six months by Katz on Wednesday. He claimed that construction on the bridge would interfere with the electrification of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv high-speed rail.
United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni hit back at the prime minister. “He [Netanyahu] apparently is not so aware of what is happening in the country,” said Gafni on Thursday. “They closed the Ayalon recently for a march, they closed it for a sporting event, they closed the Ayalon and other main roads and no one said a word.”
Gafni said he “strongly praised” Katz for his decision, and said that he thought that “the prime minister made a mistake in what he said, he didn’t need to intervene… and this reality in which Shabbat in Israel must not be turned into a week day and a day for maintenance is critical, and this is what will be.”
Following Katz’s decision, the legal adviser to the Tel Aviv Municipal Authority wrote to the Ayalon highway authority on Thursday, noting all the relevant permits for employing Jewish workers on Shabbat on the dates requested had been obtained from the Labor and Social Welfare Ministry, as well as other permits from relevant authorities.
The legal adviser insisted the Ayalon authority proceeds with the scheduled construction next Shabbat, saying that Katz had no legal authority to intervene and halt the work.
“It is not only that you are not required to adhere to his wishes, but that you are forbidden from doing so according to the law,” the legal adviser wrote.
He added the Tel Aviv Municipal Authority would not pay for the cost of delays.
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