Wednesday August 20th 2014

Arab-Jewish Unity Against Shortened Workweek

by Mahmoud Abu Ghosh

A proposal by Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) to put Israel on a shortened workweek, with Sunday a vacation day, may be buried before it gets off the ground.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) agreed this week to form a Knesset committee to investigate the idea but the proposal quickly ran into opposition from Arab lawmakers, peace activists and Shas party spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

Israel’s current workweek is generally Sunday through Thursday, with many also working a half a day on Friday. Declaring Sunday a non-work day would put Israel in step with the Western world and, according to many, dilute the state’s unique Jewish character.

Shalom argued that introducing a “long weekend” is desirable because it is adopted by “developed world states” and would bring Israel culturally closer to Western countries. His proposal has attracted the support of some religious Zionist lawmakers as it could enable observant Jews to participate Sunday in activities prohibited on Saturday due to the Jewish Sabbath.

Shalom’s plans would require longer school hours and a longer workday from Monday through Thursday, besides the half-day on Friday, in order to compensate for the lost hours from not working on Sunday. The Histadrut national labor union said the proposed change has many advantages but also just as many disadvantages, one of them being complex agreements with employers and the government on the workweek.

The Shas party, a major partner in Netanyahu’s Likud-led coalition, is opposed to the plan as it would force Jews to work more hours on Friday, the day when preparations are made for the Sabbath.

Shas chairman Eli Yishai appeared to put the initiative in jeopardy Tuesday morning when he told Radio Kol Hai that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef opposed the proposal, saying the Shas spiritual leader had instructed the faction to oppose increasing work hours on Fridays and giving Sundays off.

But Yishai’s spokesman later issued a clarification saying that the opinion he expressed on the radio was only “Shas’s current position,” and that if the committee appointed by Netanyahu endorses the move, Rabbi Yosef might be asked to rule again.

The proposal would also affect Israel’s Muslim citizens, whose holy day of rest is on Friday.

Member of Knesset Taleb el-Sanaa (United Arab List) attacked the proposal as an affront to Israel’s Arab population born out of an attempt by politicians to mimic the West.

“Israel is in the Middle East, not Europe,” argued el-Sanaa. “You cannot live in the Middle East and pretend you are in Europe. We see this proposal as political and nonsensical. It is part of this government’s attempt to harm everything connected to the Arab population in Israel.”

When informed that Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey and Pakistan had all adopted Saturday and Sunday as their weekend, the lawmaker blamed it on the colonialism that had ruled those countries in the past.

Peace activist Benny Katz from the Semitic Action movement agreed with el-Sanaa, saying that Israel should focus more on fitting in with its neighbors and less on fitting in with the Western world.

“Israel needs to concentrate on building bridges with our neighbors while at the same time preserving our country’s unique Jewish character,” Katz said in an interview with Indy News Israel.

“This proposal to shorten the workweek is just another example of political and cultural Westernization that dilutes the Hebrew character of our country and makes the realization of peace more elusive. The animosity much of the Arab world harbors towards Israel is rooted in a view of the Jewish state as a Western implant in the Middle East. The more we embrace our authentic Middle Eastern identity, the more achievable peace becomes.”