Haredim lay out terms for Netanyahu's surrender

In a meeting with the Prime Minister, haredi politicians lay out terms for their continued participation in government.

Rachel Kaplan ,

Yaakov Litzman
Yaakov Litzman
Hadas Parush/ Flash 90

Taking it to the mat: Haredi political leaders met today with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, offering him a chance to explain himself and plan for the future after the recent Shabbat work fiasco.

Netanyahu and the haredi leadership had agreed last week that work would stop on the Tel Aviv train lines over Shabbat - except for repairs which would be life-threatening if they were left undone.

Over Shabbat, it was discovered that camera crews and other non-essential personnel did, indeed, work on the train lines over Shabbat, violating Netanyahu's promise to the haredim.

Shabbat desecration, such as working on Shabbat, is a serious issue for religious Jewry, and haredi politicians have announced that they will not continue to be part of a government which countenances flagrant abuses of Shabbat.

During their meeting today with Netanyahu, the heads of the haredi parties, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas), Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (UTJ), and chairman of the Knesset finance committee MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ), expressed their concerns to the prime minister.

They reminded him of his original promise to maintain the religious "status quo" when they entered the coalition, and that the value of Shabbat was non-negotiable for them.

They also pointed an accusatory finger at the CEO of state-owned Israel Railways, Boaz Tzafrir, claiming he was "directly responsible for the damage to Shabbat's honor, and he is not worthy of his position anymore." By the end of the meeting, it was made clear that Tzafrir would leave his position next month.

Earlier in the week, the haredim had demanded the dismissal of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) for brushing off their original complaint. However, it seems Katz will continue serving in his role as minister.

For his part, Netanyahu seemed to take their perspective very seriously.

"Shabbat observance is very important to me," he emphasized. "It is the national day of rest, and I am not prepared for them to say of me that I damage Shabbat."

The party leaders demanded complete compliance with the agreement they made on Friday, and reiterated that they hold the prime minister responsible for the discontinuation of state-sponsored Shabbat work projects.

The meeting closed with an agreement to establish a committee which would lay out the groundwork for maintaining Shabbat.

The committee will include leading members of the prime minister's office, the head of the Transportation Ministry office, head of the Finance Ministry office, representatives of the haredi party leaders, a representative of the Minister of Education, and a representative of the Chief Rabbinate.

The committee will meet soon, then announce its road-map for future infrastructure projects.