Netanyahu on Shabbat Construction: 'Unreasonable to Block Traffic in Israel Midweek'

Premier makes first statement on transportation minister's decision to halt construction work that would block main traffic arteries in Israel over religious parties' demands

The construction site of Yehudit Bridge in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Tomer Appelbaum

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday morning that he did not think it was "reasonable to block traffic in the middle of week, I think this is obvious and will be taken into account."

The prime minister's statement was his first public comment on a government crisis over Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz's decision not to allow construction work on a bridge over the Ayalon Highway in Israel.

>> Under ultra-Orthodox pressure, Israel freezes construction of Tel Aviv Bridge on Shabbat

Minister Katz made the decision following religious coalition parties' uproar over the planned construction, which was supposed to take place for six consecutive weekends and would have blocked main traffic arteries in Israel.

The decision to hold the construction over weekdays instead infuriated the secular public in Israel, with opposition ministers saying that the decision reflected the government's tendency to cave in to pressure from ultra-Orthodox politicians.

The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality announced Tuesday that the new Yehudit Bridge over the Ayalon would be built over six weekends, scheduled over several months. The first highway closure was scheduled for August 31.

But on Wednesday, Katz said the municipality’s announcement was “outrageous and unnecessary” and ordered the city to submit an alternative plan. He said the manner of construction chosen could be “disproportionately onerous for the public over the weekends.”

His decision followed a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday from ultra-Orthodox MK Yinon Azulai (Shas) complaining that Tel Aviv’s plan was a gross violation of the coalition agreement. Azulai added that it was “unthinkable that the sacred Sabbath will be trampled over in the state of the Jewish people of all places.”