Ultra-Orthodox party members on Sunday called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take action against Avigdor Liberman, after the defense minister lent his support to shops that are open on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest.
On Saturday, Liberman visited an open shopping area in the southern city of Ashdod, grabbing his morning coffee in a show of defiance at laws shutting businesses on Saturdays. Later in the day thousands of Ashdod residents protested against the closure of businesses in the city on Shabbat, calling it an act of religious coercion.
“A senior minister in the government and coalition decided to aggressively inflame matters in the midst of the Sabbath, and incited against large communities and the sanctity of the Sabbath, hoping to make political gains from inflaming tensions between different groups and deepening the rift within Israeli society,” the United Torah Judaism party said Sunday in a strongly worded statement.
“Our faction calls on Netanyahu to immediately call the defense minister to order, for deepening the rift while publicly harming the sanctity of the Sabbath,” added the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox party.
The statement came after Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, leader of the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party Shas, also slammed Liberman on Saturday, hinting that cooperation between them and their parties could possibly stop.
“I’m done with Liberman,” Deri reportedly told close associates Saturday evening. “Liberman trampled on the Sabbath and crossed every line. There are things that are beyond any personal friendship.”
Religious media outlets also criticized Liberman for his visit in Ashdod, focusing on his violation of Jewish law pertaining to Shabbat, and his decision to ban Israel’s chief Sephardic rabbi and two other rabbis from participating in military events, after they spoke out against the integration of female soldiers.
Ultra-Orthodox newspapers devoted their headlines to the issue on Sunday. The HaModia daily called Liberman’s visit “inflammatory and hurtful,” while HaMevaser called it “a serious provocation,” adding that Liberman had “encouraged violators of the law and desecrators of Shabbat” while using publicly funded vehicles and staff.
The demonstration in Ashdod came a week after the Knesset passed a law granting the interior minister the power to override city bylaws allowing mini-markets to open on the Jewish day of rest. Critics of the legislation decried the religious decree, while proponents of the law said it was necessary to maintain the longstanding status quo in Israel regarding businesses operating on Shabbat.
Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, whose supporters include a large number of secular Israelis originally from the former Soviet Union, opposed the mini-market law, despite being in the coalition.
“Those who say the mini-markets law won’t change anything are wrong and misleading. This [law] will create an even bigger divide in the nation,” Hadashot news quoted Liberman as saying during his visit to Ashdod.
— חדשות סרוגים (@SrugimNews) January 20, 2018
“Just as I respect those who go to synagogue on Shabbat, I expect them to respect those who go to buy coffee.”