The newest of our conflicts concerns the construction of the Yehudit Bridge over the busy Ayalon Highway in Tel-Aviv. Work cannot be done, in reality, on weekdays because it would mean shutting off large areas of the major highway across the country. Therefore, it was requested that work to complete the bridge could be done on Shabbat when the highway is less traveled. In this way, it can prevent many unnecessary traffic jams and delays.
The Rabbinate, however, has threatened once again (as so many times in the past) to leave the coalition, thus toppling the government and a need for new elections.
Ron Huldai, the distinguished mayor of the city of Tel-Aviv, has angrily criticized and condemned Netanyahu’s surrender to the Orthodox rabbis. Doing so, says Huldai, turns Israel into a theocracy, a State ruled by medieval religious and often tyrranical rabbis.
Netanyahu, our non-observant Prime Minister, caved in to the rabbinate, as he frequently does, not in reference to observing the Sabbath but rather for the personal reason of securing his seat in government.
Leading members of the Knesset have expressed their negative opinion of refusing the work on the bridge to continue on Shabbat. They believe, rightly so, that the infrastructure in our country is vital to the safety of drivers and pedestrians and therefore they insist that the work should continue as planned.
Are we a free country or are we a feeble State controlled by religious authorities? Will the Israeli rabbinate commit a new Inquisition upon the builders and laborers? Do we really need rabbis in our government? The synagogue is their collective home, NOT the Knesset!
According to the Transportation Minister, Israel Katz, the plan was to do the work on six consecutive weekends. He ordered the Ayalon Highway Company to find alternatives to building the new bridge on Shabbat.
Mayor Huldai responded, “closing the Ayalon Highway in the middle of the week will create a bigger transportation catastrophe for the public… the government has no shame.”
Other opponents in the Knesset voiced their strong objections. MK Tamar Zandberg, leader of the Meretz party, demanded that the Knesset “return Israel to be a liberal democracy where infrastructure work is done according to needs and not to the whims of rabbis”.
The leader of the opposition, chief Tzipi Livni, accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of selling out the country for his own political ambition. “Netanyahu chooses his personal survival at the expense of the public”.
And long-time leader, MK Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party has summed it up. “The ultra-Orthodox, the real leaders of this government, ordered Netanyahu to freeze the work on the Ayalon; so Netanyahu, of course, obeyed and froze it”.
With all our political concerns and current conflicts, this new one is one that we certainly do not need.
Either our country is governed by democratic principles or by a theocracy. As a citizen of Israel who attends synagogue every Shabbat, I choose the former. Democracy must be the winner.
If the ultra-Orthodox continue their demands to halt the work on weekends, there is a simple solution.
When the new Yehudit Bridge is completed, they do not have to walk on it. Happily it will leave space for the rest of us to cross over the Ayalon Highway in safety and in comfort.
A democratic State of Israel… FOREVER. A theocratic State of Israel… NEVER.