Downbound train
Hebrew Media Review

Downbound train

The Hebrew-language media takes sides in the debate over the construction of railway stations versus the sanctity of the Sabbath

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Construction on the Tel Aviv Shalom rail line, August 27, 2016. (Israel Railways)
Construction on the Tel Aviv Shalom rail line, August 27, 2016. (Israel Railways)

Another case highlighting Israel’s lack of separation of religion and state dominates the headlines of the Hebrew-language newspapers Friday, after an agreement was reached between the Prime Minister’s Office and Shas and United Torah Judaism party leaders to delay critical construction work on a train station in Tel Aviv.

The deal was reached after the ultra-Orthodox members of Knesset threatened to topple the coalition because construction took place on Saturday, or the Sabbath, considered by observant Jews to be a holy day of rest in which most forms of work are strictly forbidden.

The agreement was greeted with reservations and frustration on the part of many Israelis, who deemed the postponement of further construction as yet another battle over the state’s character that the secular population of the country had lost to the ultra-Orthodox minority.

Yedioth Aharonoth, echoing the sentiments expressed above, pits the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox political parties against members of the IDF, branding the postponing of public transportation work as “a slap in the face to soldiers.” The daily explains that many servicemen and servicewomen will be forced to find alternative ways and routes to reach their homes next weekend, since several train lines will not run on regular schedule due to the postponed construction, which will take place on Friday and late Saturday night after the Sabbath has ended.

Work on the Shalom station in Tel Aviv is part of construction on the much-delayed Jerusalem-Tel Aviv high-speed train line.

Yedioth, which shows no interest in hiding its stance on the delaying of work on the station, makes sure to note that police and construction professionals have stated unequivocally that conducting work on the station on a weekday would create massive congestion throughout Tel Aviv, obstruct the work of emergency services, and, very possibly, endanger public safety.

Like Yedioth, Haaretz criticizes the agreement between the PMO and the ultra-Orthodox parties, and in its headline determines that “[Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu has surrendered to the Haredi factions.” The paper adds that construction and routine maintenance projects at railway stations across the country have taken place on Saturdays for years, and stresses the opinions of several officials who accused the ultra-Orthodox parties of breaching Israel’s delicate status quo.

Interestingly, but maybe not all that surprisingly, no mention of the train station saga can be found on the front page of Israel Hayom, a media outlet regarded by many as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu. Instead, the paper focuses on an explosion at a SpaceX launch site at Cape Canaveral during a routine rocket test, which destroyed the rocket as well as a $200 million communications satellite — Amos-6 — operated by Israeli firm Spacecom. Amos-6 was intended to replace the aging Amos 2 communications satellite, launched in 2003.

The Amos 5, the fifth in a series of communications satellites launched by Spacecom, was lost in space in November, and has been spinning aimlessly since. The satellite was plagued with a series of faults since its launch from Kazakhstan in 2011. Israel Hayom columnist Aharon Lapidot assesses that the destruction of the Amos 6 may have set the Israeli space industry back many years.

“The Amos 6 was the crown jewel — the biggest satellite, the most advanced, and the most elaborate to have been created by the Israel Aerospace Industries, and some say, the most advanced of its kind in the whole world,” Lapidot writes.

Lapidot also explains that the explosion was a major setback for SpaceX, the California-based company led by billionaire Elon Musk. The company had been ramping up with frequent launches to make up for a backlog created by a launch accident in June 2015. SpaceX was leasing the pad from the Air Force for its Falcon launches.

Finally, Yedioth reports that actress Sophia Loren, 81, is set to visit Israel in November. She is set to appear at Tel Aviv’s Culture Palace, or Charles Bronfman Auditorium, for a show about her private life and her numerous and entertaining encounters with the rich and famous across the globe. Tickets for Loren’s Tel Aviv show on November 25, starting at NIS 300, will be sold by the Leann company starting soon.

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