After ultra-orthodox protest, Minister stops the bridge work in Tel Aviv on Shabbat

Transport Minister Israel Katz said on Wednesday that he had commissioned a pedestrian bridge in Tel Aviv that closed the busy Ayalon motorway on Saturday after ultra-Orthodox coalition members protested against building work on the Jewish rest day.

Work on the Yehudit bridge, which spans the Ayalon highway and connects a high-tech office park with the rest of Tel Aviv, was scheduled to begin at the end of the month for six consecutive 24-hour periods starting on Friday evening. The structure, which requires one direction of the highway to be disengaged while solid steel support beams are lifted in place, was planned to coincide with Shabbat to minimize the impact on commuters.

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers in the government, however, protested against work as a violation of a coalition agreement for infrastructure work on the day of rest, which starts on Friday evening.

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The United Torah Judaism party, an ultra-orthodox faction in the government, issued Wednesday statements against the work in community newspapers and demanded that the work be moved to another day. UTJ party leader and deputy minister of Health Yaakov Litzman has resigned in the past in protest against infrastructure works on Shabbat.

Katz's statement did not mention the ultra-orthodox protest, but rather said that the announcement by the Tel Aviv City Hall that the Ayalon motorway would be closed for a series of six weekends was "excessive and unnecessary."

"The chosen method for building the bridge seems problematic and can cause serious and disproportionate damage to the public at the weekend," said Katz, who is also foreign minister.

Transport and information minister Yisrael Katz at a press conference on 5 April 2017 at the Ministry of Transport. (Miriam Alster / Flash90)

He ordered a freeze on the work and instructed Ayalon Highway Co., the company that operated the road, to find an alternative, including night work.

"We act in accordance with the instructions of the Ministry of Transport and we will look for alternatives," Ayalon Highway Co. said. in a statement.

Opposition lawmakers struck Katz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for caving to ultra-orthodox pressure and probably caused a traffic nightmare on the Ayalon if it was shut down during the week.

Zionist trade union leader Avi Gabbay tweeted that "Netanyahu does not care that you're not here [traffic] jams. Only someone who does not care about the public can admit so quickly. & # 39;

"The ultra-orthodox, the real leaders of this government, have ordered Netanyahu to freeze the Ayalon's work, so Netanyahu obeyed and froze of course, and we'll have to get into crazy traffic again," said MK Yair Lapid, chief from the secularist Yesh Atid party.

"A shameful surrender by Minister Katz to the ultra-orthodox," tweeted MK Tamar Zandberg, head of the left-wing Meretz party.

She said that during the current recess her party would organize a Knesset meeting "to bring Israel back as a liberal democracy where infrastructure work is done according to needs and not according to the rabbis' whims."

The protest against the construction work was the latest in a series of cases in which ultra-orthodox legislators threatened a coalition crisis over observed Shabbat violations, even in November when plans to upgrade the railways at the weekend almost overthrew the government.

United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev conducts a meeting of the Science Committee in the Knesset, on 4 June 2018. Miriam Alster / Flash90)

UTK Knesset member Uri Maklev said in the statement Tuesday that "Shabbat is not an answer for construction or maintenance work."

"In the same way that they can close roads on a weekday for a marathon, such as cycling races and other similar events, this should also be the case for the construction of complex technical infrastructure like this," said Maklev. "For every issue there is a solution nowadays, between schedules & # 39; s and good planning.Shabbat is not a solution."

MK Yinon Azoulay, of the ultra-orthodox Shas party, appealed to him in a letter to Netanyahu to urgently intervene to not violate laws relating to work and rest days and to breach the status quo. with everything that goes with it & # 39; to prevent.

Azoulay noted that a clause in the coalition agreement states that "the status quo relating to religion and state will be preserved as it has been in Israel for decades".

The Yehudit span connects an area with several office towers, including the Israeli office of Google, which is located on the eastern side of the Ayalon motorway, which essentially cuts off from the rest of the city center to the west of the motorway.

Upon completion, the bridge is 110 meters long, 18 meters high and 11 meters wide. It has a pedestrian and bicycle lane separated by a central section with benches.

For the construction, steel beams with a total weight of 1,000 tons will have to be lifted into place, Channel 10 reported Wednesday.

The now canceled plan had the first work session scheduled for August 31st. On every occasion the highway had to be closed in one direction from 6 pm onwards. Friday for 24 hours.

The Ayalon, which runs north to south through the eastern part of Tel Aviv, is one of the busiest motorways in the country.

View of Ayalon highway in 2015 in Tel Aviv. (Nati Shohat / Flash90)

In November Litzman, then Minister of Health, resigned in protest to perform infrastructure work planned on Shabbat. He later returned as Deputy Minister of Health after a compromise was reached on the work.

The coalition crisis was resolved, with the government agreeing to propose a law to maintain the status quo regarding Shabbat compliance in Israel, including the passing of so-called mini-market legislation, legislation that prevents convenience stores from operating on Shabbat .

Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman attends a meeting of the Health Committee in the Knesset on 2 July 2018. (Hadas Parush / Flash90)

Moreover, the government agreed to adopt an amendment to a constitutional constitution, which allowed Litzman to act as deputy minister in the ministry of health, without a minister serving him.

Litzman hated becoming a full minister because of the reluctance of his community to grant full legitimacy to a secular Jewish state.

But a statement from 2015 forced him to seek and receive rabbinic approval to become a full minister.

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