High Court says PM can’t halt train work on Shabbat

Days after commuting chaos caused by nixed weekend repair work, bench issues temporary injunction permitting Israel Railways to continue construction on day of rest

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu boards a train from Tel Aviv to Beersheba on November 13, 2012. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu boards a train from Tel Aviv to Beersheba on November 13, 2012. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice on Tuesday issued an interim injunction permitting Israel Railways to continue work on Shabbat, nullifying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial order to halt work on the Jewish day of rest.

The ruling handed down by Justice Anat Baron came in response to a petition filed by Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon last week challenging the legality of Netanyahu’s Friday order to halt repairs to the state-funded rail lines. That order led to mass transportation delays across the country Sunday and sparked protests by angry commuters.

The injunction said that Israel Railways was authorized to employ workers on Shabbat if necessary though the end of September, and any additional employment-related matters relating to the project would require the approval of Labor Minister Haim Katz.

The court further instructed the rail company not to take additional instructions from Netanyahu regarding the infrastructure work.

Visiting The Hague, Netanyahu, who had accused his transportation minister of using the scandal to oust him from power, said that he respected the court’s ruling, and called on all Israelis, whether religious or secular, to put the issue to rest.

“I think putting an end to this affair is the right thing to do,” he said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Galon praised the High Court’s ruling, calling it a “tremendous victory” over what the opposition lawmaker said was “clearly illegal behavior on the part of the prime minister.”

Travelers at central Tel Aviv's central Savidor station checking a schedule, where no trains northbound are listed, on September 3, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Travelers at central Tel Aviv’s central Savidor station checking a schedule, where no trains northbound are listed, on September 3, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

 

On Friday, Netanyahu instructed Israel Railways to halt 17 out of 20 projects that had been scheduled to take place over the weekend, after ultra-Orthodox parties threatened to topple his coalition if work continued on Shabbat.

As with much other public transportation in the country, trains do not run from Friday afternoon to Saturday night, but repair work considered vital has generally been allowed with the government’s approval.

The last-minute changes of plan caused chaos: Complex preparations for the work had begun on Friday, but because it was not carried out on Shabbat, the train service was not usable in many locations until Sunday night.

As the work belatedly got under way, some 150 train departures on the Haifa-Tel Aviv route, the country’s busiest, were canceled on Sunday morning, affecting an estimated 150,000 travelers and commuters.

Since soldiers returning to their bases after weekend leave particularly affected, the Defense Ministry organized a fleet of buses to help alleviate the chaos, but anger was still widespread among troops and the general public alike.

Some felt that Netanyahu had folded to ultra-Orthodox pressure, others that he had sacrificed their well-being in order to show his ostensibly rebellious transportation minister who’s boss.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, seen next to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz at the weekly cabinet meeting at Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem, September 4, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, seen next to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz at the weekly cabinet meeting at Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem, September 4, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu, for his part, rejected any blame, and accused Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz of intentionally sparking a coalition crisis with the ultra-Orthodox parties over Shabbat work on the railways, just weeks after the two fought over control of a key Likud party institution.

Netanyahu claimed Katz created the crisis by ordering construction work on the rail network over the weekend when it wasn’t necessary to do so, ostensibly in order to avoid train delays.

Some close to Netanyahu described Katz’s actions as an “attempted putsch.”

The prime minister’s decision sparked protests at several train stations in Tel Aviv and Haifa, with hundreds of demonstrators along with opposition lawmakers slamming Netanyahu for capitulating to the ultra-Orthodox members of his coalition.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: