Haredi parties threaten government crisis over Shabbat rail construction

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Haredi Orthodox parties in Israel are threatening to leave the ruling coalition and bring down the government over the construction of a Tel Aviv train station on the Jewish Sabbath.

Late Saturday night, the heads of the religious parties demanded a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and issued calls for him to fire his transportation minister, Yisrael Katz of his Likud party.

The haredi Shas and United Torah Judaism parties held hours-long talks on the issue overnight Thursday with Katz, calling on him to not undertake the work on Shabbat. Party leaders in a statement called the work an “unnecessary desecration of the Shabbat.” They reportedly threatened to leave the government coalition during the talks.

Katz said the work had to be undertaken on Saturday to avoid traffic snarls that would endanger the public safety. During the rail infrastructure work, parts of the major Ayalon Highway were closed off.

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“The work done over the weekend was something that was both needed and essential. There was no other way,” Katz said Saturday night during a visit to the Hashalom train station in Tel Aviv.

“I operated in accordance with the law and the status quo. I would not agree to cancel the work despite the pressure to do so. I am a traditional man and was sorry about the position taken by the heads of the ultra-Orthodox parties.”

The work is part of the construction on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv high-speed train line.