Chareidi MKs are demanding that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu fire Transport Minister Yisrael Katz, whom they said misled them on the “lifesaving need” for work on Israel Railways lines over Shabbos. It turned out, the MKs said, that the work wasn’t as vital as claimed, and went far beyond the scope of what had been described to them Friday morning by Netanyahu.
To make matters worse, Katz on Motzoei Shabbos declared his satisfaction with the work done over Shabbos, and with the fact that he had not “folded in the face of pressure to cancel the work, despite the pressure on me. I respect the chareidi parties and their voters but it was impossible to postpone this work until the middle of the week. I am happy that they accepted this position and realized that there was no choice but to carry out the work.”
Not quite, countered MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni. Speaking Motzoei Shabbos, he said that contrary to what Katz claimed, “this work could have been done on a weekday. We never agreed that it should take place on Shabbos. Apparently, lying is one of Katz’s areas of expertise. We have seen this in recent months in other areas as well, as he lies to advance his political goals.”
According to Deputy Education Minister Rabbi Meir Porush, “they presented this as a ‘lifesaving matter’ and necessary under the circumstances. If the prime minister wants us to remain in the coalition he must learn what the concept of ‘lifesaving’ (pikuach nefesh) means halachically. This was very much not the case with the work that took place in Tel Aviv.”
A report on Channel Two said that chareidi MKs gathered after Shabbos and planned to demand that Netanyahu fire Katz for misleading them. In a statement, they said that the parties “were protesting with true pain over the unnecessary work done on Shabbos in Tel Aviv. What took place was a violation of the agreements made previously with the transport minister, and a violation of the status quo.” The press conference held by Katz right after Shabbos, and the media hoopla over the “victory” over the chareidim, did not help matters either, the statement said.
In his comments, Katz said that he had acted in accordance with the law and the status quo.
On Friday, MKs of all the religious parties in the Knesset said that a coalition crisis would emerge if Israel Railways proceeded with maintenance work this Shabbos. In a letter to Netanyahu, leaders of the chareidi parties said that the prospect of such work taking place “is a very serious matter and a terrible violation of the status quo. It will de facto erase public observance of Shabbos in a very public manner, something that has not happened since the establishment of the state.”
Responding to the letter Friday morning, Netanyahu said that any work that could be delayed would be, but work that was deemed an “emergency” and “lifesaving” would be carried out. Work in Tel Aviv itself would take place, but work on several suburban lines that had been planned for Shabbos would be delayed.
The work entailed maintenance and expansion of Israel Railway lines in the Tel Aviv area in order to accommodate the Tel Aviv light rail, currently under construction. Israel Railways claimed that Shabbos – when trains do not operate – was the only available time to do the work without shutting the system down altogether, as most train lines pass through the Tel Aviv stations where the work is to take place. Police said that postponing the work to a weekday would cause a “danger to life” because it would entail shutting down main highways in Tel Aviv, and emergency vehicles and ambulances would not be able to get through.