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Israeli soccer to go ahead this weekend, after all

Israeli Football Association reinstates matches after attorney general says antiquated labor law need not be enforced

Illustrative photo of Israeli soccer fans (Flash 90)
Illustrative photo of Israeli soccer fans (Flash 90)

The Israel Football Association announced Wednesday afternoon that “all professional league and youth league games will take place as planned this weekend.”

The decision was made after the attorney-general said there was no need to enforce a ban on the matches, amid a complex dispute over whether players should be allowed to play on the Sabbath.

The ban was imposed last week by a labor court judge, reliant on a law from the 1950s which mandates that every Israeli wishing to work on the national day of rest needs to secure permission to do so from the Ministry of Economy. In the wake of the ban, the IFA had canceled all weekend matches, a position it reversed on Wednesday.

Following a request from Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said he so no reason to change the long-standing policy of non-enforcing the law in this case.

“I do not find a reason, at this time, to order a change to the policy of non-enforcement in all that relates to holding soccer matches on Shabbat, as has been the custom for decades,” Weinstein wrote Wednesday.

Regev thanked him for safeguarding “soccer, Israeli law and Shabbat. I am committed to this issue and believe we can reach a compromise.”

The crisis began when Labor Court Judge Ariella Glitzer ruled last week that organizing or participating in soccer matches on Shabbat was technically illegal, and ordered the IFA to obtain a work waiver from the minister of economy, who is also in charge of the enforcing of labor laws. The current minister of economy is Aryeh Deri, from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, who was not prepared to sign such a waiver.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev seen at the opening of the Jerusalem Film Festival held at Sultan's Pool, outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, on July 9, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev seen at the opening of the Jerusalem Film Festival held at Sultan’s Pool, outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, on July 9, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Glitzer made her decision after hundreds of players petitioned the IFA, refusing to play games on the Jewish day of rest, which lasts from sunset on Friday until nightfall on Saturday.

In their letter, the players claimed that requiring them to play on Shabbat violated Israel’s Work and Rest Hours law, a largely ignored 1951 piece of legislation that prohibits employees from working on the Sabbath without a special dispensation from the economy minister.

“If the minister doesn’t give permission to play on Shabbat, soccer will stop. From the professional level to kid’s leagues, there will be no more soccer in Israel,” IFA spokesperson Shlomi Barzel said last week.

Since then, neither side had budged. Club managers insisted that the teams play on Shabbat, while players, some religiously observant and others not, refused.

IFA officials argue that the majority of the 30,000 players on 1,000 teams that would be affected by a Saturday soccer suspension are school-aged children.

The IFA also noted Tuesday that if no solution were found, professional soccer would also be illegal for Israeli Muslims on Friday and Christians on Sunday, and that all other sports would be similarly affected.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid on Wednesday backed soccer on Saturdays.

Israel's Economy Minister Aryeh Deri (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israel’s Economy Minister Aryeh Deri (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Some people go to synagogue on Shabbat. Some people go to soccer matches. Some people go to synagogue and from there, to soccer matches. It’s called living together, a life in which you understand that not everyone is the same, share the same views, the same thought, or the same way of believing in the god of Israel,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

“There is one day of rest in Israel. If there were two – like in most progressive countries – I’d be the first to support not playing on Shabbat. But this is not the reality, so the Israeli Shabbat is also one of soccer. Trying to change this becomes an attempt to enforce the Shabbat, instead of making it a day all of us can enjoy, each person in their own way.

“I understand and appreciate the plight of players who do not want to play on Shabbat, but this is a personal choice. The obligation they took upon themselves is called ‘the burden of mitzvot’ because they took on a commitment other people did not,” Lapid wrote.

“I support keeping a special place for the Shabbat in Israel – it is not a day like all others – but soccer is part of it,” he added.

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