Agriculture Minister: “I’ll Try to Stop Shabbos Violations in My Ministry”

Uri Ariel, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Uri Ariel, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) was outspoken earlier this week over last weekend’s violation of Shabbos by Israel Railways – but on Tuesday he found a problem much closer to home to deal with, after Channel Two revealed that officers of his ministry were themselves deployed to work on Shabbos on a regular basis. In response, Ariel said that this was the first he had heard of it, and that he was conducting an investigation into the matter.

The workers in question are agriculture inspection officers who are stationed at Ben Gurion Airport, and are engaged in conducting agricultural inspections of luggage and cargo that passes through the airport. As flights come into the country on Shabbos, inspectors are needed to examine the luggage and cargo of those planes, said one source among the staff. “As long as they have flights coming in on Shabbos they will need us to inspect those flights,” the source said. “The only way to allow us to take the day off is to halt incoming flights on Shabbos.”

Last Friday, Ariel joined in with chareidi MKs to condemn a plan to conduct work on a portion of the Israel Railways infrastructure on Shabbos. The MKs threatened a coalition crisis, and in a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that they “could not take responsibility for the survival of a government that erases public observance of Shabbos. We respectfully request that the Prime Minister order that the work not be done on Shabbos until the relevant parties can gather and discuss the consequences of this activity.”

In his own statement, MK Ariel said that his party would also see the work as a reason to break up the coalition. “There is no place for a public company in Israel to operate on Shabbos,” he said. “I have appealed to the Prime Minister and other officials to develop alternative plans to conduct the work on weekdays. Shabbos is a main value for the Jewish people, and violation of the status quo is a serious matter that could bring a political crisis that no one wants.”

Responding to the Channel Two report, Ariel said that he had asked the Director-General of the Ministry to look into the matter and determine whether or not it was possible to dispense with the need for Shabbos work among the inspectors.