Netanyahu overrides Zohar, says Shabbat cultural activities will not change

Culture and Sports Minister MK Miki Zohar defended his actions after receiving criticism for freezing events on Shabbat.

Likud parliament member Miki Zohar reacts during an arrangements committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 13, 2020. (photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
Likud parliament member Miki Zohar reacts during an arrangements committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 13, 2020.
(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

Cultural events held on Shabbat that are subsidized by the Ministry of Culture and Sports, including the “Israeli Shabbat” project, will continue as usual, the ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office announced in a joint statement on Monday.

According to the statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture and Sports Minister MK Miki Zohar clarified the situation in a conversation between them. Zohar stated that he wants the initiative for the activities to come from the funded entities and not from the ministry itself, but funding and the content of the activity would not be harmed.

Former minister of culture and sports Chili Tropper said “I welcome the fact that the ‘Israeli Shabbat’ project will continue to operate as usual. Not everything is politics. Sometimes the truth is simple: all Israelis, religious and secular, those who can reach and those who can’t, will be able to continue to come every weekend to more than 100 heritage sites and museums throughout the country and connect with our heritage and our culture.

“I hope that the agreement will indeed be realized and the activity will continue to be free of charge, so that everyone can participate in it,” he said. “Thank you to all the Israeli public, Right and Left, Shabbat-observant and non-Shabbat-observant, who linked arms together to keep the ‘Israeli Shabbat.’”

Zohar had defended himself against critics who blasted him for freezing subsidized cultural events on Shabbat during an interview on KAN Reshet Bet Monday morning.

 Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper speeks to the Israeli Olympic delegation competing at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo during a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on June 23, 2021 (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper speeks to the Israeli Olympic delegation competing at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo during a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on June 23, 2021 (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Upholding the status quo

“From the founding of the state, there is a status quo in Israel which, unfortunately, the outgoing minister violated last year – and for the first time in the history of the Culture and Sports Ministry, decided to actively initiate an activity that takes place precisely on Shabbat, which had never taken place,” he said.

“Just as no official government body in Israel initiates an activity on Shabbat, neither will the Culture and Sports Ministry initiate an activity on Shabbat.”

Zohar further explained his actions in a series of tweets, saying that, “So after the false media spin, here is the truth as it is. I have never said or considered canceling events or denying funding to cultural institutions operating on Shabbat.

“On the contrary, when I took office, I made it clear unequivocally that we would preserve the status quo and the freedom of the citizens of Israel and, among other things, I also made it clear that I will not interfere with the soccer games on Saturday.

“I am sorry that some of the media cooperate with the false spins of opposition parties in order to scare the public instead of reflecting the truth,” Zohar concluded.

Criticism against Zohar

Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid criticized Zohar’s plans and tweeted in support of one of the initiatives that is threatened by them. “‘Israeli Shabbat’ is an initiative for the unity of Israel. It doesn’t hurt anyone – it respects Shabbat, Israeli culture and Jewish tradition. Its cancellation is an attack on the periphery and is religious coercion of the worst kind. I call on minister Miki Zohar to rescind the decision to prevent another rift in the people of Israel,” Lapid wrote.

The Israeli Shabbat initiative provides free entry into a number of heritage sites, museums and cultural events around the country on Fridays and Saturdays and was launched in March 2021 under then-culture minister Chili Tropper.