Haredi Parties to Demand Netanyahu Fire Minister Katz Over Sabbath Crisis, Sources Say

Construction work at Tel Aviv interchange raises ire of ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, who say they have been 'deceived' over the nature of the work, which they claim was a violation of religious status-quo.

The construction works at Hashalom Interchange in Tel Aviv on August 26, 2016.
Moti Milrod

The leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Knesset factions were planning to demand Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give the boot to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, sources said Saturday, ratcheting up a coalition crisis over road construction in Tel Aviv during Shabbat. 

The leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Knesset factions held consultations Saturday night over construction at the Shalom interchange of the Ayalon Freeway. Shas and United Torah Judaism lawmakers demanded an urgent meeting with Netanyahu over the matter.

The ultra-Orthodox lawmakers were reportedly angry mainly at Katz, who according to United Torah Judaism officials “deceived” them by saying he would make do only with work on Shabbat that was necessary to save lives, permissible according to Jewish law. “When Shabbat ended we saw the pictures that were taken on Saturday, and we heard Katz say ‘I did not give in to pressure.’ That does not seem to involve endangering lives,” the officials said.

“The work could have been done on a weekday and not on the Sabbath," said United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni. "There was no agreement for work on the Sabbath. Apparently lying is part of the profession of Yisrael Katz, we have seen this over the past two months when he lied to us for his own political reasons.”

The ultra-Orthodox lawmakers said the work constituted a breach of the status quo. 

The work was planned several months ago and set for this weekend. On Friday, Litzman, Gafni and Deri lodged a protest with the prime minister. Before they approached Netanyahu, Transportation and Road Safety Minister Yisrael Katz explained to the ultra-Orthodox leaders that he has been advised he cannot legally interfere with the work on Shabbat. He said the police had strongly warned against doing the work on a weekday, and he advised against asking the prime minister to call for a government decision to cancel the work for reasons not in keeping with professional considerations.

Netanyahu had told the ultra-Orthodox lawmakers on Friday that the work would be carried out as planned by that work on the railroad line “could be postponed and will not be carried out this Sabbath.”

Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush (UTJ) said: “The Haredi parties were given a fait accomplit with the claim that the work was a matter of pikuah nefesh [saving lives] and had to be carried out. If the prime minister wants us to stay in the coalition, he will have to internalize that the concept of pikuah nefesh is as precisely defined by Jewish law and very far from what happened in Tel Aviv.”

Speaking from the work site on Saturday, Katz said: “The work was carried out here all during the Sabbath by means of a special permit. We called the heads of the Haredi parties and in a conference call I said that I very much respect the Haredi public. I made clear to them the law and the opinion of the Israel Police. I suggested that they read it – it speaks of danger to human life – before they take a position. And the fact is in the end I did not give in to pressure and order the work stopped and in the end they and everyone support this work.”