Getting Israel Back on Track

Synagogue-and-state tensions have once again been grabbing headlines in Israel. The most recent salvo revolves around Prime Minister Netanyahu’s order last week to halt 17 out of 20 railway projects that were scheduled to take place over Shabbat, after Orthodox parties threatened to leave the coalition. Work began instead on Saturday night, leading to the cancellation of around 150 trains on the busy Tel Aviv-Haifa line on Sunday morning. This affected around 150,000 commuters, with a particularly major impact on IDF soldiers – Sunday is the day many soldiers return to base following weekend leave.

Last Saturday night, NIF grantee Be Free Israel organized protests, attended by hundreds of Israelis, against the shutdown. Opposition MKs attended the rally in Tel Aviv, including Meretz MKs Zehava Galon and Tamar Zandberg. Banners at the protests included “Bibi, this is our train too,” and “Let’s get the country back on track”.

In a statement, Be Free Israel said: “In 2016, this is a perfect representation of the whole story of religion and state in Israel….behaving like the kings and popes of Europe in the Middle Ages… demeaning and harming the population, as if we’re pawns in a game of chess.”

Finally, on Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued an interim order preventing Prime Minister Netanyahu from banning railway construction on Shabbat. This followed a petition by Meretz party leader Zehava Gal-On. In response, Netanyahu said: “I respect the decision of the Supreme Court… All citizens of Israel, secular and religious alike – should abide by this ruling and this decision.”

September 2016