HMO Withdraws Sponsorship for Shabbat Race Under Haredi Pressure

The Maccabi health maintenance organization has withdrawn sponsorship from tomorrow's 10-kilometer race in Kfar Sava amid demands by the city's Haredi leaders to reschedule the event to a day other than the Sabbath.

A Maccabi spokesman said the HMO had agreed to the municipality's request months ago to provide funding for the race. It was only after Maccabi officials realized that the event was taking place on a Saturday that the HMO sought to sponsor another event on a different day "to be involved with events that are within the consensus."

Sources have told Haaretz that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman urged Maccabi executives to withdraw their support for the event.

Officials at the HMO, however, said yesterday that Maccabi was not swayed by the ultra-Orthodox protest.

Around 1,200 runners are expected to take part in the 20th annual installment of the race.

Senior members of the ultra-Orthodox community have lobbied the Kfar Sava municipality to move the event, without success.

Municipal officials say the race, which attracts thousands of spectators, has always been held on a Saturday.

The Rabbinical Council for the Sanctity of the Sabbath, an ad hoc committee representing Haredi sects, urged the Kfar Sava municipality to cancel the race. That council recently made news by leading the campaign against chipmaker Intel's plant in Jerusalem.

Following the request, ultra-Orthodox daily Yated Ne'eman ran a front-page headline: "Crisis due to the disgraceful mass violation of the Sabbath that has no precedent in the country."

According to the newspaper, the appeal to cancel the event was "an emotional plea and a request emanating from the heart." Most of the lobbying efforts and pressure have been applied to sponsors of the race.