Court: Netanyahu Not Authorized to Halt Shabbos Work

YERUSHALAYIM -
A view of the High Court building in Yerushalayim. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
A view of the High Court building in Yerushalayim. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The High Court on Tuesday ruled in favor of a petition filed by Meretz head MK Zahava Galon regarding the ability of the government to nullify work permits issued for Shabbos – practically guaranteeing another week of political drama surrounding the infrastructure work being conducted by Israel Railways.

The court ruled that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not have the authority to issue stop-work orders last Friday, to shut down the infrastructure work that the railroad claims cannot be conducted on weekdays because of the disruption to traffic and the potential for “life-threatening” situations, because ambulances and other rescue vehicles would be unable to negotiate the tremendous traffic tie-ups that would result from suspension of rail service on a weekday. The court issued an injunction preventing Netanyahu from issuing such orders in the future.

According to the law, the only way to cancel work that the management of Israel Railways believes is essential for its operations is with the signature on an order to do so by the Minister of Labor and Welfare – in this case, Likud minister Chaim Katz. Such an order can only be issued with the full approval of the government and the Knesset Finance Committee. Neither of these took place, and thus Netanyahu exceeded his authority, the petition claims.

The petition was filed on Shabbos itself, with Galon claiming that Netanyahu did not have the authority to cancel Shabbos work on the rail lines. The Prime Minister, charges the petition, was in violation of the Government Corporation Law, which prevents interference by the political establishment with the operations of government owned corporations.

However, on Tuesday morning, a report on Israel Radio said that the government had responded to Galon’s petition by saying that it was not Netanyahu but Katz himself who had ordered that the work stop. Katz did so by phone, as he was abroad at the time. The orders were communicated by the Prime Minister’s office, the government claimed, because the director-general of the Ministry of Labor and Welfare, who was authorized to submit Katz’s orders, is himself shomer Shabbos, and was unavailable to call Israel Railways directors and inform them of the decision.

Commenting on the decision, Galon called it a “victory,” saying that “the court did not accept the government’s argument that the entire issue was irrelevant since it was Katz who they claimed gave the order.” The court said in its decision that it would “conduct a hearing at a future date on the clearly illegal activities of the Prime Minister.”

While Galon may have “won” the petition, it is not clear if she won an order for the resumption of work next Shabbos. A report on Israel Radio Tuesday said that Katz had decided to pull all extant work permits for Shabbos and issue them on a weekly basis, depending on the needs of the organizations that requested them. The decision to issue them would be based solely on the professional assessment of experts in each circumstance.