Opposition assails Netanyahu for playing politics over Shabbat crisis

Gal-On: Prime minister capitulated due to haredi pressure

MK ZEHAVA GAL-ON in the Knesset.
A torrent of denunciations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unleashed Monday in a special recess debate in the Knesset to discuss the recent transportation crisis after railway maintenance work was halted on Shabbat.
Earlier this month, approximately 150,000 commuters were caught in a traffic and transportation maelstrom, as the country’s busiest train line, Tel Aviv to Haifa, was shut down on a Sunday for maintenance that was originally scheduled for Shabbat.
During the Knesset debate, prompted by a request of more than 25 MKs, four motions were proposed accusing the government and the prime minister of abandoning their responsibilities to the public.
Meretz chairwoman MK Zehava Gal-On spoke first and was particularly insistent on demanding to know who had issued the order rescinding Israel Railways’ permission to perform work on Shabbat.
It was Gal-On and Meretz who submitted a petition to the High Court after the incident, challenging the constitutionality of the order rescinding Israel Railways’ permission to perform work on Shabbat.
Gal-On, like others, accused Netanyahu of having used the Shabbat row to gain political advantage over party foe and Transportation Minister Israel Katz, who found himself in an awkward situation after he was assailed by haredi (ultra-Orthodox) politicians for having earlier permitted maintenance and construction work on the railways.
“Because of the political rivalries between the prime minister and Minister Katz and because of the pressure exerted by the haredi political parties on the prime minister by abusing their political power, we saw the prime minister capitulate, extorted and easily influenced,” charged Gal-On, who was the proponent of one of the motions.
MK Yoel Hasson of the Zionist Union accused Netanyahu of having abandoned his citizens, tens of thousands of whom were unable to get to work and some of whom he said had to take vacation days because of the traffic chaos.
“The government is not looking for answers, instead it looks to blame the media or the Left or the Center or [US] President [Barack] Obama,” said Hasson.
“Instead the prime minister is spending hours giving private briefings to the media about how great he is,” he added in reference to the series of lengthy off-therecord briefings Netanyahu has conducted with different media outlets of late.
Hasson went on to say “the train of Israel” had come off the rails, and the government had no national vision, focusing in particular on the conflict with the Palestinians.
“Where is the Israel train going? Are we going to have a bi-national state with 40 or even 60 MKs from Joint List?” Netanyahu came in for further criticism from Yesh Atid MK Yael German, who accused the prime minister of “thinking he is caesar” and that “the state is him.”
German, like Gal-On, accused Netanyahu of manipulating the Shabbat crisis and the haredi parties in order to weaken Katz and for “ugly revenge against he who, according to the prime minister, tried to create a putsch against him,” and noted that Katz is not the first political colleague Netanyahu has accused of trying to topple him.
Perhaps the most impassioned speech against the prime minister came from MK Revital Swid of Zionist Union who called on Netanyahu to “examine his deeds” and take the initiative on any of the country’s most pressing concerns.
“Bibi, you’ve been leading the country for seven years so undertake this self-accounting and think about your achievements, or lack of them,” she said.
“I call on you to do something. Finally. To bring change, before it is too late,” she said of the conflict with the Palestinians, and called on him to take the initiative when he meets Obama later this week.
“This is your chance to do something, to find a solution. How long will you continue to sit on the fence. The time has come for action and initiative. Take the opportunity and do something to influence our future. What are you waiting for? The EU, BDS, the French [diplomatic] initiative.
“Change your custom, be active not only in your own survival but this time in our survival.”
It was left to Tourism Minister Yariv Levin of Likud to reply on behalf of the prime minister who chose not to attend the special session, much to the consternation of the assembled opposition MKs.
Levin accused Netanyahu’s detractors of “demagoguery” and seeking only political gain by taking advantage of the political problems that had sprung up in the wake of the Shabbat crisis.
Levin also singled out Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid for failing to attend the session, and for failing to have spoken out on the train and Shabbat debate.
The minister went on to say the government was working on the principle of preserving the Jewish character of the state, and argued that the majority of the construction and maintenance requested by Israel Railways to be conducted on Shabbat could be done during the week.