MK Regev supports decision to halt bridge works on weekends
The minister of culture and sports describes call to cancel construction work on a new bridge over Ayalon Highway on Shabbat as 'correct and appropriate', since it takes into account needs of Haredim; In contrast, Eurovision Song Contest rehearsals will take place on Saturdays and an ‘understanding with ultra-Orthodox parties will be reached,’ said Regev.
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev said on Wednesday that Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz has made the right call when he halted construction work on a new bridge over the Ayalon Highway during the weekend, since Israel is a Jewish state and the government should take the ultra-Orthodox community's needs into account.
The new pedestrian and cycling Yehudit Bridge is located above the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, and will connect Yigal Alon Street to the Montefiore neighborhood.
The planned work was scheduled to take place over six weekends starting August 31. This would necessitate the closure of parts of the Ayalon Highway in the Tel Aviv area between 6pm Friday and 6pm Saturday, because of the dangerous nature of the work, which includes the placement of six massive steel beams, 55 meters long, weighing more than 1,000 tons.
However, Transportation Minister Katz said that "the construction plans of the bridge seem problematic and can cause serious and disproportionate damage to the general public during the weekends."
Therefore, the minister instructed Ayalon Highways Co. to immediately freeze the plans and submit new ones as soon as possible to carry out the works without disrupting traffic on the weekend, including by carrying out the work in the late night hours.
Ayalon Highways Co. said it would "act in accordance with the Transportation Ministry instructions and will examine alternatives."
Katz's decision caused quite a stir among several MKs. According to MK Meirav Ben-Ari (Kulanu), she cannot understand "when will the job take place, if no construction is permitted on Shabbat. It is not a pleasant thing to tell, but work—initiated by the Minister of Labor, Welfare and Social Services Haim Katz, and approved by the minister of transportation—is already being conducted on Saturdays. The goal is to allow the residents in neighborhood surrounding Tel Aviv to enter the city on foot."
Similarly, Meretz leader, MK Tamar Zandberg slammed Katz's decision, saying "in a democratic-liberal state in 2018, infrastructure work should be managed in accordance with the needs and in a way that least disrupts the lives of citizens, and not according to dark whims of politicians who serve rabbis rather than the public. Katz's insufferable capitulation to the Haredim proves just how much this government is pulling Israel away from liberal democracy."
In contrast, minister Miri Regev defended Katz's decision in an interview with Ynet. Regev argued that "If the bridge can be built during the week, why should we desecrate the Shabbat? After all, the Shabbat, beyond the religious significance it has for religious citizens, is a day off for workers. So, there is no reason to continue work on Shabbat if it is possible to construct the bridge from 2am to 5am."
"This way, the job will be completed in a month, not a fortnight. If it is possible to reach an understanding, I do not see this as a problem. The transportation minister heard a variety of opinions regarding this matter, and made the right call. I think this is a correct and appropriate decision," Regev said.
Does it not come at the expense of the general public that is stuck in traffic jams all day?
"I travel in the late night hours, I travel all over the country, I think that on Shabbat the roads are overcrowded more than between 2:00 and 5:00am. So I think that the decision to carry out the work in the late night hours is a correct decision. Again, when there are specific sensitive issues, it is possible to sit down with the ultra-Orthodox parties and come to an agreement."
Those who do not agree with the draft bill in its present form are the ultra-Orthodox community, it seems that they are dragging this government into decisions based on their needs alone.
"First of all, they do not drag the government into decisions based on their needs, the government is excellent and does an excellent job promoting various ministries' agendas, including the ultra-Orthodox' needs. Yaakov Litzman is doing an excellent job as the health minister, Moshe Gafni is doing an excellent job as a chairman of the Finance Committee, and certainly all MKs who belong to the ultra-Orthodox parties do an excellent job. Yes, I think that the ultra-Orthodox parties should accept the draft bill as it stands."
So why not approve it now?
"First of all, we are at a recess, and are supposed to return immediately after the holidays. According to the Supreme Court, we can approve a new law until December 3."
It is true that the needs of the ultra-Orthodox community should be taken into account, but what about the needs of the secular and traditional public? The Likud's vote also reflects the public who disapproves of Litzman's decision.
"I want to surprise you and tell you that whoever petitioned the High Court of Justice—against the wishes of the Mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai—requesting to close down all shops and supermarkets on Saturdays are actually the small business owners, who are not religious nor members of the ultra-Orthodox community, but they asked for competitive freedom. They asked to match their competitive ability to those who do open their businesses on Saturday, and to let them have their Shabbat. I remind you that Shabbat is also a day of rest for the State of Israel. And we have to keep this social day of rest. Not only because of religious reasons, but because we want people, in general, to have one day of rest a week, which is Saturday. If it is possible to reach an understanding, I think it is the right thing to do."
According to Regev, "even on the Left, there are conservatives and religious people who want to rest on Shabbat. I reiterate, it has nothing to do with the elections ... First of all, I still don't see any elections on the horizon, despite the fact that the prime minister said that if no agreement is reached regarding the draft bill a date will be set within the next two weeks for national elections. I hope we will come to an agreement on this matter because the draft bill is proportionate—on the one hand, it permits the 'Torah study is a job' arrangement, and so it should. On the other hand, it determines that enlistment is not something you can dodge based on a hasty decision."
By the way, what will you do if the Eurovision Song Contest preparations require work on Shabbat?
"This is a question that I also put on the table when discussing this issue, I spoke about this with Litzman and with the prime minister because at the moment the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation (IPBC) is working with the European Broadcasting Union has yet to decide where the contest will be held, so at the moment it is not on the table. My guess is that as soon as the location is picked out, work on Shabbat could not be avoided. We will have to explain to the ultra-Orthodox community that there are things beyond our control, and that eventually, the Eurovision Song Contest takes place on Saturday nights. We will have to reach an understanding regarding this matter.
So the Eurovision contest will be held in spite of work done on Saturdays?
"No, I do not think there will be any work done on Shabbat, but there will be rehearsals, not work. All the preparations for the Eurovision Song Contest will be completed long before the event, and there will be no reason for work to take place on Saturdays."