Media predictions of a “carmaggedon” on Israeli roads Sunday morning seemed to be a bit exaggerated, despite the closure or schedule cuts of many rail lines in the center of the country, as infrastructure that was postponed from Shabbos continues. A police update of traffic tie-ups throughout the country varied little from that of a typical Sunday morning, with the usual trouble spots into and out of the Tel Aviv and Haifa areas experiencing the same delays as on an average week.
Meanwhile, the scene at train stations on the lines where rail service is suspended was one of “controlled chaos,” as reporters for Israel Radio put it. Dozens of buses were lined up in an organized manner to transport passengers who would usually ride the rails to their destinations, and police were clearing traffic at intersections in order to allow the buses to proceed.
There were major delays on several roads, most notably on the Ayalon Expressway south from the northern entrance of Tel Aviv to the Hashalom interchange – but delays are common on that road as well. A survey of routes into the city using Waze indicated that the average trip for most commuters, whether by car or bus, was about ten minutes more than usual.
It’s a sacrifice – one that all residents of the center of the country, including chareidi residents – were making, but for Shabbos, such a sacrifice is worthwhile, said Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman. “Shabbos Kodesh is one of our most important values and we cannot compromise on it. Thanks to cooperation by all religious parties, we were able to prevent chillul Shabbos, as the majority of Israelis who see Shabbos as a day of rest demand, regardless of their party affiliation.”
Speaking in Bnei Brak Motzoei Shabbos, Knesset Finance Committee chairman Rabbi Moshe Gafni slammed Transport Minister Yisrael Katz, laying Sunday’s traffic jams directly at his doorstop. “On Friday we understood that the central track on the Herzliya-Haifa line would not be dismantled, but Katz ordered that it be taken apart, apparently on purpose to cause the greatest disruption to traffic – knowing that it would extend the work through Sunday, the day with the biggest traffic delays.” There was no reason, he said, that the work could not have been done during the week, for example, beginning Thursday night after rush hour and proceeding throughout Friday, when ridership is light and traffic far less intense, ending right before Shabbos.
“Unfortunately we have been caught up in the dispute between Katz and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whom Katz is trying to harm politically with this move. We support the prime minister for his stance and commitment to keeping Shabbos in the public sphere, and we sharply protest the actions by the transport minister who seeks to take advantage of Shabbos, as well as of the commuting public, to advance his anti-Netanyahu agenda,” added Rabbi Gafni.
Taking a less strident approach was United Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush, who said that the chareidim were not a party to the dispute between Katz and Netanyahu – and had no desire to be, either. “We discovered that the claims made last week by Katz that the work on the rails needed to be done on Shabbos because of pikuach nefesh were incorrect,” he told Israel Radio Sunday morning. “We are interested in preventing chillul Shabbos, not in getting involved in Likud politics.”
Reports from political sources Motzoei Shabbos said that Netanyahu was on the verge of firing Katz, whom Netanyahu accused of manufacturing an artificial crisis in order to advance his plans to replace Netanyahu as the head of the Likud. “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.”
However, the comments from Netanyahu’s office have generated a great deal of turmoil in the Likud, where Katz is a popular – and powerful – figure. MK Oren Hazan said that it would be best for all to put the current dispute “on ice. Katz is not the enemy,” he said in a letter to the prime minister. “Continuing this dispute will only harm the Likud, and hurt you politically. It could lead to elections, which you may lose, thus ending your term as prime minister. How can you expect the public to trust us as a party if we appear as a party that is fighting all the time?”
Speaking Sunday morning, coalition head MK David Bitan said that he and others in the Likud were working to prevent Katz’s dismissal. “It is true that there is a crisis of trust between the two,” he told Israel Radio. “We are trying to resolve this. However, we have a long way to go.”