Ultra-Orthodox Party Assails Israeli Defense Minister After Mall Visit on Shabbat

United Torah Judaism lawmakers ask Netanyahu to 'call Lieberman to order' after the visit; Shas MK says he is ‘irresponsible and unworthy of being defense minister’

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman visits the Big Fashion mall in Ashdod, January 20, 2018.
Ilan Assayag

The United Torah Judaism party has joined others in attacking Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman for visiting a shopping center in Ashdod on Saturday. UTJ lawmakers asked the prime minister to “call the defense minister to order immediately for deepening the rift among the public, while publicly damaging the sanctity of Shabbat.”

Lieberman visited the Big Fashion mall in Ashdod on Saturday in protest the recently passed Supermarket Law, which bans most businesses from operating on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. People have been saying that “this law has no meaning and that it’s all rhetoric,” Lieberman stated, adding that “anyone saying that is wrong and is deceiving others. Unfortunately the law does have far-reaching repercussions. In some cities it was received as an order to attack. What we see in Ashdod is regrettably a direct result of the Supermarkets Law.”

Around 2,000 people demonstrated against the new law in front of Ashdod’s city hall on Saturday evening for the second week in a row.

On Sunday morning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to get the sparring parties to end the hostilities. He intends to meet with Dery and Lieberman later on Sunday in an attempt to put an end to the crisis.

The UTJ reaction to Lieberman’s visit was published in three of its mouthpieces: the dailies Yated Ne’eman, Hamodia and Hamevaser. “Something has happened in Israel,” it read. “A senior cabinet member chose to openly defy Shabbat, accompanied by other government officials, using government cars and aides while inflaming spirits among large parts of the public and desecrating Shabbat.”

“This is a serious act which could serve as a precedent, deliberately done while informing the media in advance, with a clear intention of inciting and tarnishing the Orthodox public using lies and invented facts while defiling the holy day,” the text continued. “Lieberman knows that the new law regulating the opening of supermarkets on the Sabbath is meant to preserve the status quo. However, he chose to stoke tensions and unnecessarily incite people while disrupting the day’s sanctity. His behavior attests to political distress due to his competition with Yair Lapid [of Yesh Atid] for votes of people filled with hate, in order to make political capital by setting one group against another, deepening polarization within this nation.”

Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen from Shas, the other ultra-Orthodox party in the Knesset, also said in an interview with Army Radio that “Lieberman is irresponsible and is unworthy of being defense minister in Israel. It was a mistake to support his bill calling for capital punishment for terrorists. We won’t repeat that mistake and the bill won’t pass.”

Interior Minister Arye Dery speaks with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman at the Knesset, October 23, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

On Saturday, Interior Minister Arye Dery attacked Lieberman for visiting the shopping center. “I’m done with Avigdor Lieberman,” he told associates. “Lieberman trampled Shabbat rudely and crossed all lines. Even the senior Lapid, who hated religion, never dared act liked that,” he said, referring to Tommy Lapid, the father of the current Yesh Atid chairman who headed the secular Shinui party. “There are things that go beyond personal friendship,” Dery added.

During his visit, Lieberman said that rabbis who spoke out last week against mixed-gender military service, including Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, would not be invited to any army ceremonies until they retracted their statements. “The chief rabbi, Rabbi [Shlomo] Aviner and Rabbi [Shmuel] Eliyahu cannot call for the dismissal of the chief of staff and [for people] not to enlist in the army, and also take part in ceremonies or in any events within the Israel Defense Forces,” he said.