Jerusalem – Transportation Minister Israel Katz vowed Sunday to emerge unscathed from a political scandal over work conducted by Israel Railways over Shabbat.
Speaking to Knesset reporters on a tour of the tunnels being built for a high-speech rail line from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, he said he did not take seriously reports that United Torah Judaism would insist on his firing.
“I assume that if you will come back on this tour in another few months, you will do it with the same minister and not a different one,” he told the reporters. “I am in favor of maintaining the status quo on matter of religion and state and I am dear to the haredi community, so most of the attacks on me on those issues are from the other side.”
Katz said he was not concerned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would use the scandal as an excuse to punish him for using Likud institutions against him.
“Sometimes you pay a price for your decisions but that won’t happen here,” Katz said. “I am not worried, because I was chosen to be near the top by Likud members. This isn’t the narrow politics or the Likud Secretariat. It’s a matter of principle.”
The haredi political leaders Interior Minister and Shas chairman Aryeh Deri, Health Minister and Agudat Yisrael chairman Yaakov Litzman, and Degel Hatorah chairman MK Moshe Gafni are still considering whether or not to demand that the prime minister fire Katz for his actions, in a meeting scheduled for the next 48 hours.
In an interview published Sunday morning in Yated Neeman, the mouthpiece of Degel Hatorah, Gafni said that the haredi parties were in no way persuaded by arguments that it had been necessary to carry out the construction on Shabbat to prevent loss of life had it been done during the week.
In Jewish law, saving a human life overrides almost every other religious precept such as sabbath observance.
“‘Saving a life’ is not a political term but a totally halachic term, and if it had been decided by someone who is accepted by us [to take such decisions] regarding halacha we would have been in favor of the construction work,” said Gafni, adding that it was “unthinkable that anyone can arbitrarily determine what is ‘saving a life’.”
He also accused Katz of having deceived the haredi leaders in a recent meeting, when he instructed his professional team dealing with the issue to halt the construction work, and without informing them otherwise gave the go-ahead for it without further consulting them.
The haredi political leaders were particularly incensed at the press conference Katz held shortly after Shabbat as well as the information and pictures he released of the construction work which was undertaken.
“The expansive and unnecessary media festival around the construction and the press releases are particularly regrettable, which needlessly intensified the Sabbath desecration,” said Deri, Litzman, and Gafni.
Katz responded that he followed the law and said haredi politicians gave their approval for the work in advanced. He stressed that he did not drive on Shabbat to the press conference, nor did he send a glider to take pictures of the construction on the Sabbath, He scolded Israel Railways director-general Boaz Tzafrir for doing so.
In an interview with Channel 2, Katz hinted that Netanyahu himself encouraged him to stop the work from being done on Shabbat after approving work on 12 projects being done on Shabbat.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On called the crisis “fake” and accused UTJ of exploiting it to