Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu kicked off his campaign for reelection over the weekend – and kicked off a mass desecration of the Sabbath at all three of Israel's broadcast television stations. Netanyahu, who rushed to make political hay because of a misstatement by Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, granted interviews to all three TV stations that were broadcast Friday and Saturday night – and, at least in one case, recorded on Shabbat itself.
Netanyahu had planned to appear on all the stations during the coming week to discuss what he considers his successful economic and defense policies. But officials in the Bayit Yehudi party and the Religious Zionist movement said that Netanyahu had apparently decided to move up the interviews to Saturday night – apparently in order to take advantage of Bennett's “moment of weakness,” in which comments he made in an interview on Thursday night were, the officials said, wrenched out of context in order to make it appear that Bennett advocated outright refusal of orders by IDF commanders.
Speaking Saturday night himself, Bennett said that he had not advocated refusing orders, but was just expressing the moral dilemma an IDF soldier faced when being ordered by his commander to evict people from their homes – Jews or Arabs.
Likud officials have expressed concern over Bennett's popularity, said the Bayit Yehudi officials, and decided that the brush-up over his comments would be a good opportunity for Netanyahu to score some points with voters who are wavering between voting for the Likud or Bayit Yehudi. And in short interviews with Channels 1, 2, and 10, Netanyahu spent several minutes slamming Bennett for the comments.
But the officials said that from what they were told, the preparations for the interviews, as well as the recording of at least one of them, took place on Shabbat, and between the three stations, hundreds of workers were called in for overtime work to set the interviews up. “We heard about one observant worker who was told he could go home for Shabbat, but apparently the Prime Minister does not believe that secular Jews need to have their Sabbath too,” the Bayit Yehudi officials said.
In addition, the officials said, Likud personnel cynically used the fact that the Bayit Yehudi, and Bennett, do not appear in the media on Shabbat, spending over 30 hours in defamatory “comments” and “analyses” condemning Bennett, without his having the opportunity to respond.
A spokesperson for Netanyahu said that all three interviews were recorded “a short time before that beginning of Shabbat.”