Amid accusations that he has been working to upset Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition – with the objective of forming a new Likud government led by an alternative figure – Welfare Minister Chaim Katz is set to give up his responsibilities regarding the issuing of work permits on Shabbos.
The permits issued to Israel Railways in recent weeks led to a near-crisis in the coalition, with the resignation of Rabbi Yaakov Litzman as Health Minister.
It is Katz who signs off on the permits. Shabbos is the legal day of rest for Jewish workers; businesses and services cannot operate unless they get a permit to do so. Katz has been authorizing permits for Israel Railways based on the company’s claims that it must do infrastructure work on Shabbos, when the trains don’t run, or risk delaying hundreds of thousands of commuters on a weekday when train lines will have to be shut down for the infrastructure work.
A report on Channel Two quoted government officials as accusing Chaim Katz of exacerbating the matter by giving interviews in the media in which he proudly proclaimed that work on Shabbos has been going on all along, and would continue. In an interview in Yediot Acharonot over the weekend, Katz said that “all security work that needs to be done on Shabbos will be done. Any work that we have no choice to do but on Shabbos will be done. Work has been done on Shabbos over the years and will continue to be done.”
Katz has made similar comments in recent weeks, and Likud MKs have accused him of trying to foment a crisis between chareidi parties – which had no choice but to respond to this direct challenge on kedushas haShabbos – and Netanyahu, who has been trying to calm the situation.
After the resignation of Rabbi Litzman, it appeared that Netanyahu had done so, as reports Sunday said that after a lengthy meeting with chareidi MKs, Netanyahu had promised to pass a law that would codify the status quo. According to Channel Two, Chaim Katz has been the target of much criticism in the party – and as a result has decided to let Netanyahu deal with the issue. “Katz feels that he is being wrongly blamed for this crisis, so if the Prime Minister thinks he can handle this matter better, let him try, is how Katz sees this,” the report said.
Commenting on the report, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) said that he was prepared to take the job. “Israel is a Jewish state and it must observe Shabbos in the public sphere, and not allow work on Shabbos that is not necessary. If Minister Katz wishes to transfer his responsibilities for issuing work permits on Shabbos to another minister, I am prepared to take the job on,” he said.