'Most Participants Aren't Jewish': Netanyahu Plays Down Eurovision Violating Shabbat

Weekend work permits for Eurovision complicate Netanyahu’s coalition bargaining with ultra-Orthodox parties

Israeli singer and past Eurovision winner Dana International at the Orange Carpet event in Tel Aviv, May 13, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Seeking to quell ultra-Orthodox anger over holding the Eurovision Song Contest's final in Tel Aviv on Saturday, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday it was an "individual international event" not sponsored by the state, and that the government doesn't want to violate the Sabbath.

Speaking to United Torah Judaism chairman Yaakov Litzman at a sensitive point in negotiations to build a new government, Netanyahu said “The Israeli government respects Shabbat as a national day of rest and shall continue to maintain the status quo that has held in Israel for years.”

He added that “most of the participants in the event are from abroad and aren’t Jewish.”

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According to Netanyahu, the competition had been scheduled under international standards that are beyond the Israeli government’s control, and is being handled exclusively by Kan public broadcaster. The contest is scheduled to begin at 10 P.M., about two hours after Shabbat ends, but a dress rehearsal will take place during Shabbat, on Friday evening.

Last week, United Torah Judaism postponed a negotiating session with Likud in protest of the Sabbath work permits provided to help prepare for the contest. A UTJ source told Haaretz that “we shall not allow [issuing the permits] to go unnoticed."

MK Moshe Gafni of the Degel Hatorah party, which is part of UTJ, was quoted by the Yeted Ne’eman ultra-Orthodox newspaper: “We gave notice during these negotiations that what has happened in the past will not happen again. Some of the discussion with the Likud dealt with work on Shabbat.”

The newspaper wrote that “the ease with which the permits were issued was shocking,” and its editor-in-chief, Yisrael Friedman, wrote that “to make such a decision when the country is under fine is a physical crime, not just a spiritual one.”

The Labor and Welfare Ministry is the only office authorized to permit work on Shabbat and most permits are given to a limited number of workers on a specific basis. The office said it had issued a general permit because they could not estimate how many people would have to work on Eurovision, and due to its importance, its uniqueness and its size. The office also said that the permits went only to those whose work was “necessary and mandatory,” on condition that those who worked on Shabbat would be given the same number of hours off within a four-week period.