Yishai Stops Time

Interior Minister Eli Yishai seems to be set on leaving a legacy as a lawmaker who led Israel backward.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai seems to be set on leaving a legacy as a lawmaker who led his electorate, and Israeli society itself, in taking a decisive step backward. Even before the uproar over his inane bid to suspend daylight saving time has died down, Yishai has already marked a new target.

In his decision to block the Interior Ministry's website on Shabbat, Yishai confirmed his difficulty in understanding the concept of individual freedom, and that the term "accessible government" is to him no more than a empty slogan.

Internet use is different from other activities that may raise questions about the place of tradition and faith in the Israeli public domain. As it is conducted in the private domain, one can hardly make the claim that it "offends the sensibilities of the ultra-Orthodox." With this latest campaign, Yishai is showing that he intends to force his interpretation of the dictates of the faith on the public at large. Predictably, other religious lawmakers immediately rose up - led by Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman - and struck a similar pose, lest they be perceived as less devout than the pious Shas chairman. Litzman and Yishai seem to be competing for the title "fanatic of the month," jostling to win approval at the expense of their rivals while dismissing the broader public and its interests.

Closing government websites on Shabbat is a particularly cynical move given that operating the sites requires no additional mobilization of manpower, and its sole objective is to assist busy individuals who prefer to take care of their business on the weekend. Many have no other free time at their disposal, others simply aren't Jewish.

The response to the affair offered by Michael Eitan - minister for the improvement of government services - was far from comforting. Surely, he said, there are "technological solutions that would avoid desecration of the Sabbath." Eitan is, by virtue of his position, the official responsible for facilitating public access to government services and must not limit those services on the pretext of religion. If Eitan and his colleagues in government don't restrain Yishai, there's no telling how far he will go in his attempt to stop the march of time.