Knesset Debate About Work on Jewish Sabbath Postponed Due to Muslim Holiday

Political storm over cancellation of train work on Shabbat promoted opposition to demand emergency session, but Id al-Adha keeps lawmakers on recess.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz on a train to Be'er Sheva, 2012.
Moti Milrod

The special Knesset session about work on the Jewish day of rest has been postponed due to a Muslim holiday which could prevent Israeli Arab lawmakers from attending.

After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to freeze work scheduled for Shabbat on Israel's railways, causing a political crisis and sparking public anger, the opposition collected the mandatory 25 signatures needed to force the Knesset to convene and hold a special debate.

However, Id al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, falls between September 11 and 14 this year, thus session was postponed until September 19.

A protest in Tel Aviv against the lack of public transport on the Jewish Sabbath, September 3, 2016. The main placard says, "Waiting for a bus for Shabbat."
David Bachar

Responding to the decision, leftwing lawmaker MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) said "the coalition is trying to bury the public debate regarding the government's failures. I call on the Knesset speaker to hold this session this week," he said.

If the session is not held this week, he warned, the opposition would consider canceling it due to what he described as the speaker's "contemptuous" position.

Three opposition Knesset factions, the Zionist Union, Meretz and Yesh Atid, said they have secured the 25 signatures from MKs required to convene a special Knesset session to debate the issue of halting rail repair work over Shabbat.

Last week, Haaretz reported that the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee will defer committee hearings that had been scheduled for the Muslim holiday, ensuring that Muslim MKs and other officials will be able to take part.

Their attendance is considered vital because the panel will be considering matters that have a particular impact on the Arab community.

The committee hearings were scheduled to go ahead despite requests from Knesset members and nonprofit groups to reconsider. The issues of national civilian service and worker safety in the construction industry had both been slated for September 11 to 14.

Still, the Abraham Fund Initiatives notes that from September 11 to 14, other Knesset committees have scheduled sessions – on changing the party funding law and on the confiscation of property in cases involving human trafficking or the detention of people in conditions of servitude.