After a weekend of recriminations and political turmoil, sources in Israel’s political establishment are expecting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to fire Transport Minister Yisrael Katz. In a sharp rebuke of Katz Motzoei Shabbos, Netanyahu’s office said that there was currently a “crisis of trust” between the prime minister and Katz over the latter’s refusal to support Netanyahu’s decision to halt all work on Israel Railways lines over Shabbos.
Last week, work proceeded at several Israel Railway sites that Katz had declared to be necessary for pikuach nefesh, based on a report he had been given by police – a claim that was refuted by numerous authorities over the past week. Work had been scheduled to take place again this Shabbos, but chareidi MKs said that they would not remain silent if work proceeded for a second week.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu offered a compromise to chareidi parties that would have limited work on the lines over Shabbos to three out of the 20 work sites, a compromise that was rejected by the parties, who insisted on full compliance with the status quo that prevents such work from taking place on Shabbos. Late Friday, Netanyahu’s office decided to suspend all work on Shabbos, postponing it to Motzoei Shabbos. Primarily affected will be travelers on the line between Tel Aviv and Nahariya. Work is expected to continue through Sunday afternoon in several of the work sites.
Sources in the Likud said that Katz had been using the Shabbos work on Israel Railways to engineer a continuation of his “rebellion” against Netanyahu by cynically inflaming religious war unnecessarily. “There was no need to schedule any of this work for Shabbos,” Israel Radio quoted advisers to Netanyahu as saying. “The work could have been scheduled in a way that would not have harmed commuters or soldiers, and accommodated the chareidim. Katz is holding the riding public hostage in an effort to create an artificial crisis that he created in order to gain influence in the Likud.”
Work on the train lines began at the close of Shabbos, necessitating the closure of rail lines on Motzoei Shabbos. Opposition MKs on Motzoei Shabbos led rallies and protests throughout the country of secular groups protesting the “capitulation of the government to the chareidim.” Hundreds of people protested at central train stations in Tel Aviv and Haifa, demanding that trains begin running and that the work be postponed until next Shabbos.
The protesters were joined by MKs from the left, who accused the government of “taking the side of the chareidim while making tens of thousands of citizens and soldiers suffer,” said MK Tamar Zandberg of Meretz. “I cannot remember such a deep capitulation that has harmed so many people. Tens of thousands of people will be stuck, like pawns on the chessboard of Netanyahu, Katz and the chareidim.”
MK Michal Rozin, also of Meretz, said that she was “sorry the disgusting politics of these parties is stamping down the rights of the public to train service. This is a cynical use of the needs of the public in the service of the internal politics of Netanyahu’s party.”
Sources in Netanyahu’s camp said that the prime minister had taken all the scenarios into account and would ensure that everyone got where they needed to. “The prime minister and defense minister assure the public that buses will be at the disposal of the IDF to transport soldiers over the next day, and the Transport Ministry will also ensure that there are plenty of extra buses to transport people between Haifa and Tel Aviv,” the sources added.