Arye Deri, head of Shas party
Arye Deri, head of Shas party Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

The heads of the haredi parties, Ministers Arye Deri (Shas), Yaakov Litzman (UTJ), and MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) sent an urgent letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday evening, bearing an ultimatum: gives us our Shabbat, or we take your coalition.

Haredi MKs have been in an uproar these past few days over the government-sanctioned construction and repairs which take place during Shabbat on the Israel Railways. Such actions violate Shabbat, and haredi politicians refuse to be accessories to the act.

"If train works were to take place on this upcoming Shabbat, it would be a serious breach of the 'status quo'," the letter read, citing a promise Netanyahu made to the haredi parties that he would preserve current religious standards in Israel. "We will not be able to carry the responsibility of a government which tramples over the holiness of shabbat." In other words, as members of the coalition, the haredi parties feel responsible for enabling the government to desecrate Shabbat - and would leave the coalition to prevent it, causing Israel to call new elections.

Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) also took a stand on the matter: "I understand that the infrastructural works on the train are unique, yet there is no room for a government company to work on Shabbat. I turned to the Prime Minister, [asking] him to direct the professional bodies responsible for the matter, so they can find an alternative to do their work on weekdays."

"The Shabbat is a Jewish and Israeli value, which is recognized as part of the status quo which exists in Israel. Harming the status quo is very serious to me, and is likely to lead to a political crisis, which no one wants," remarked Ariel.

Previously on Thursday afternoon, the Shas party chair, MK Yoav Ben-Tzur, sent an urgent letter to the Prime Minister, demanding he intervene to stop the works planned for this upcoming Shabbat.

In response, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz clarified to a body of haredi politicians that he has no power over the Israel Railways matter - they needed an order from the Labour Minister, or the direct involvement of the Prime Minister, to stop the projects.

As of now, the projects are set to go ahead as planned.