The religious intimidation that has started to penetrate the Israel Defense Forces, the education system and the public square in general is now seeping onto the sports field. Last week Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev signed a regulation that makes government support for sports organizations conditional on not holding competitions on Shabbat, unless a sports association can persuade a ministry committee that it has no choice.
The new regulation was instituted in response to a High Court of Justice petition filed by the Nivheret Hashabbat organization, which represents Shabbat-observant athletes, demanding that such athletes get equal opportunities. The regulation states that, “an institution will [still] be eligible for support if the committee is persuaded that it took reasonable measures to allow Shabbat-observant sportsmen to take part in the competition, [but] that this cannot be done because it would undermine the ability to hold the competition or due to external constraints beyond its control.”
If Regev had bothered to check the details first, she would have learned that Israel doesn’t have enough sports facilities with lighting that would allow games to be held on weekday evenings. Moreover, competitions that are not held on Shabbat would require players to miss school or work, while most professional sportsmen can barely make a living from sports as it is.
Nivheret Hashabbat is convinced that the new regulations are “historic justice for 20 percent of the population, which observes tradition.” But in fact it’s just another expression of the tyranny of the religious minority over the secular majority. Now, not only can’t 80 percent of the population get places on public transportation on Shabbat, they won’t be able to play or watch sports that day, either.
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Regev is convinced that she’s in charge of the state’s purse. When she wishes, she will open it and provide funds, and if she wishes, she will not. This is how she acts in when she wears her culture minister hat, and now we see it as sports minister as well. But this regulation does real harm to Israeli sports. Aside from the problem of infrastructure and the fact that sports competitions in Israel have traditionally been held on Shabbat, around the world almost all international competitions are held on weekends. Does Regev plan to ask international sports associations to move their competitions to weekdays because Israeli athletes cannot compete on Saturday?
Regev is known to enjoy Israel’s athletic accomplishments, including those achieved on Shabbat. The Giro d’Italia bike race took place in Israel on Shabbat, as did the World Lacrosse Championship, the European Judo Championships and more. Her attempt to also ride the wave of religious intimidation sweeping Israel is a miserable one. Instead of making it harder for Israeli sports, she’d be better off doing her job of helping it develop with dignity.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.