Israeli Far-Right Lawmaker Demands Halt to Soccer Matches Being Held on Shabbat
The chairman of Israel’s far-right Religious Zionist party Bezalel Smotrich demanded a halt to professional soccer games being held on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, labeling them as “undemocratic” and “non-Jewish.”
In a letter to the head of the Israeli Professional Football Leagues, Smotrich, who is slated to hold a senior ministerial role in Israel’s next government, lamented that the league chooses “to close the gates” and “blatantly ignores a large crowd of [religious] players, children and families,” who keep Shabbat, which falls on a Saturday.
“The exclusion of half of the Israeli public from soccer both as spectators and as active participants must stop, this is a step that is undemocratic, unsportsmanlike and non-Jewish,” according to the letter cited by the Hebrew press.
The complaint came after matches were recently brought forward to an earlier hour on Saturday as Israel ended daylight saving time late last month, preventing Shabbat-observing soccer fans from attending.
In last week’s election, the Religious Zionist party, which ran alongside the Otzma Yehudit party led by ultra-nationalist Itamar Ben Gvir and the homophobic Noam party, won 14 seats up from seven previously. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who will most likely regain power as prime minister this week, started informal talks with the factions in the Religious Zionist alliance to form a right-wing government.
Meanwhile, Smotrich’s demand garnered condemnation from across the Israeli political spectrum on the center-left and right.
Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the Yisrael Beytenu party, warned about Israel turning into a theocracy.
“A halachic state is just around the corner,” Lieberman tweeted. “Looks like Smotrich needs to give a kosher certificate to soccer games as well.”
“I can only guess what the next step will be? At this rate, we will have to watch the World Cup games on Saturday only in reruns,” he continued.
“Smotrich: We watched soccer on Shabbat before you and we will after you,” Lieberman announced.
In reaction to Smotrich’s demand, Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll of the Yesh Atid party said, “the [election] campaign is over and the masks are coming off!”