Quiet weekend hoped for despite railway work

Minister says maintenance will be carried out on Shabbat, but workers can choose to refrain if they wish.

FRUSTRATED PASSENGERS fill platforms 5 and 6 at the Savidor central train station in Tel Aviv.  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
FRUSTRATED PASSENGERS fill platforms 5 and 6 at the Savidor central train station in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Labor and Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz announced Thursday that there would be limited Israel Railways work on Shabbat this weekend, despite demands by the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) for the work to stop.
Katz has been meeting with all the relevant parties to ensure that this Shabbat will pass quietly following two weekends of political turmoil. His associates said it was important to rebuild trust between Israel Railways and the haredim.
“This Shabbat there will be essential maintenance work in order to ensure that trains will run properly and safely for all their passengers,” Katz said in a statement. “I instructed Israel Railways management to enable any worker who does not want to work on Shabbat to refrain from doing so, whether he is secular or haredi.”
Shas leader Arye Deri and United Torah Judaism heads Ya’acov Litzman and Moshe Gafni responded in a joint statement that did not include any threats or demands.
“We are working together with full cooperation in order to ensure that the honor and holiness of Shabbat will be maintained as it has been since the beginning of the state, and we hope that with god’s help it will continue to be,” read the statement.
Deri added in an interview with a haredi radio station that he and his UTJ colleagues were aware that they would not receive a full cessation of all work in the country on Shabbat.
Likud sources revealed that Deri himself approved work on Shabbat when he held Katz’s portfolio.
“We understand that the state is secular, and we haven’t arrived at the days of the messiah yet,” Deri said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the crisis regarding work by Israel Railways on Shabbat to be over on Tuesday, after the High Court of Justice issued an interim order permitting the work to continue, and stating that any order to the contrary is invalid.
Netanyahu said he would abide by the court’s request that in the future, Katz (Likud) would determine what work could be done on Shabbat, and the rest of the work would be done during the week.
Last Friday, Netanyahu postponed railway construction – which was initially scheduled to be completed over Shabbat – until Saturday evening, impeding thousands of travelers on Saturday night and Sunday, including many soldiers who were returning to base.
Israel Railways officials said they expected trains to run on time this weekend, despite work that will be done on the Jerusalem- Tel Aviv line and its station near Tel Aviv University. Channel 10 reported that gentile workers would be used in the work on the railroads.
The larger issue of opening commercial businesses on Shabbat in Tel Aviv will be addressed on Sunday, when information will be submitted by a committee of five directors- general of relevant government ministries who worked on the issue for months, but failed to reach a consensus. The committee – headed by Prime Minister’s Office director-general Eli Groner – will release what a source on the committee called “options” for solving a dispute over a Tel Aviv municipal bylaw passed in 2014, which permits the opening of the stores in the city.
The issue surrounding Sabbath closures resurfaced last month, when a branch of the Henri’s cafe franchise in Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market refused to open on Shabbat and was fined by the municipality.
A street party has been planned for next Saturday in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, in response to calls to shut stores in Tel Aviv on Shabbat.
The event’s organizer wrote on Facebook, “It is no longer possible to keep quiet, as these interruptions have become the status quo. It is unacceptable to reduce the movement of people on Shabbat and on weekdays due to haredi political whims. I call on you to come to Bnei Barak (exact location to follow) next Shabbat, with music, megaphones and lots of spirit, to prove to everyone that the members of the secular community are not suckers and will not keep quiet. You [in the ultra-religious sector] have crossed the line and now the defenders of the line [in the secular sector] will come for you.”
Channel 10 reported the party would be canceled so as to prevent secular-haredi tension.
Daniel Altman and Sharon Udasin contributed to this report.