Netanyahu: Shabbat train crisis is over

High Court: Israel Railways can perform work on Shabbat.

Northbound train which made emergency stop near Haifa (photo credit: GUY BAZAK)
Northbound train which made emergency stop near Haifa
(photo credit: GUY BAZAK)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the crisis regarding work by Israel Railways on Shabbat to be over, 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.
Speaking to reporters at a news conference on Tuesday alongside Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at The Hague, Netanyahu said that he respects the decision of the Court, and that he was glad the issue was resolved.
Netanyahu added that he would abide with the court’s request that in the future, Minister of Welfare and Social Services Haim Katz (Likud) would determine what work could be done on Shabbat, and the rest of the work would be done during the week.
“The court decision is correct, and it puts an end to this episode,” Netanyahu said. “All Israeli citizens – secular and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) included – must act according to this decision.” Katz and the Orthodox director-general of his ministry, Eliezer Yablon, have begun meeting with all the figures involved in the dispute to ensure that enough compromises are reached in order to prevent conflict for the third week in a row.
In theory, the court decision could prevent a repeat of last weekend, where repairs had to be performed on Friday and Saturday night, causing havoc for thousands of commuters as delays ran well into Sunday. In its ruling, the High Court said it was technically just confirming the state’s position filed earlier in a written reply to the issue.
The state’s written submission was a response to a petition filed by Meretz party leader Zehava Gal-On, challenging the government on the constitutionality of rescinding Israel Railways’ permission to perform work and repairs this past weekend, which led to the saga.
The High Court had denied an emergency freeze of state policy at an unusual hearing on Saturday, and asked the state to explain its position in writing.
Much of the country, especially public offices, cannot make employees work on Shabbat, but Israel Railways had a special waiver on the issue until now.
According to the state, Israel Railways never lost the authority to have its workers perform repairs on Shabbat, a special authority delegated to it by the government.
Rather, a unique and temporary situation arose this past weekend, but not one which in any way removed Israel Railways’ special permission on the issue.
The state argued that the entire petition refers to the situation as it was last weekend, and that this situation has changed and is no longer relevant, making the petition itself no longer relevant.
Furthermore, the state contended that if the authority to have employees working on Shabbat is removed, it will be removed legally by the social welfare minister or someone he has delegated his authority to, and only after weighing other relevant public administrative law concerns.
Finally, the state noted that Israel Railways will be attending a meeting with all relevant government authorities in the near future to formulate a policy going forward, implying that it would be premature for the High Court to jump into the issue before they make a decision.
“This was a tremendous victory,” said Gal- On. “I am glad the court did not accept the chutzpadik view of the state’s attorney that the dispute is a theoretical matter.”
Gal-On expressed her frustration that the state did not answer the primary question of whether Netanyahu was authorized to cancel railway work on Shabbat.
“The public deserves an explanation from the State Attorney’s Office and the court regarding whether the prime minister violated the law, and what steps need to be taken to prevent such a violation from occurring in the future.... (However) I appreciate that the court will reconvene to deal with the behavior of the prime minister.”