On Sunday, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz ordered the Abu Kabir Forensics Institute to expand its hours of operation to include Shabbat and Jewish festivals, following requests received from Knesset members of the Ra’am (United Arab List) and Joint List parties.
The Arab Knesset members had demanded a change in the Institute’s policies in order to expedite autopsies for their Muslim electorate. In the past, the Institute has been criticized for long delays in releasing bodies for burial.
The new timetable will take effect by the end of the year and will be funded from the Health Ministry budget.
The Abu Kabir Institute is the sole such institute in the country, the only body that is officially permitted to conduct autopsies, and as a government institution, it is subject to the same regulations as Israel Police and the State Prosecution Service.
Responding to the news was UTJ MK Uri Maklev, who sharply criticized Horowitz’s decision.
“The Abu Kabir Forensics Institute is part of the state apparatus and as such is considered part of the government,” he said. “It is to be regarded no differently from any government ministry when it comes to Shabbat desecration. In addition, if it opens on Shabbat, its employees will be forced to work on the holy day.”
Maklev added that, “When there were requests for the Institute to work night hours, the Minister did not even deign to respond. But now, when it comes to opening on Shabbat, he agrees. And it’s important to note that the Institute does not deal with emergency medical procedures – it only deals with autopsies. The Health Minister would do better to concern himself with those who are still alive in the country’s hospitals which are on the verge of collapse, and take action to prevent further Israeli citizens from dying in droves.”
UTJ party head MK Moshe Gafni noted that, “I hope very much that the religious ministers and members of the coalition refuse to back this move or to enable Nitzan Horowitz to alter the character of the state and cause desecration of Shabbat when there is no issue of saving lives involved.”
The haredi Shas party also issued a statement in response to the decision of Health Minister Horowitz, saying, “This Bennett-Lapid government that is disconnected from reality continues to erode the Jewish identity of the state and is now going to force employees of the Abu Kabir Institute, a quasi-government department, to work on the holy day of Shabbat.
“Naftali Bennett, who is so proud of being ‘the first religious Prime Minister,’ has shown that he has no red lines, and that the Jewish values of the state are up for sale in order to bolster his coalition with the support of the United Arab List.”