Smotrich seeks end to soccer games on shabbat, prompting outrage

“It’s unfortunate that for you, new crowds do not include Shabbat-keeping fans.”

By Debbie Reiss, World Israel News

Religious Zionist party chief Bezalel Smotrich has called on Israeli professional soccer leagues to stop holding games on Shabbat, prompting outrage from opposition lawmakers and soccer fans.

In a letter to commissioner of the Israeli Professional Football Leagues, Erez Halfon, Smotrich claimed that playing on Shabbat was unfair to religious soccer fans.

“It’s unfortunate that for you, new crowds do not include Shabbat-keeping fans. You have chosen to ignore a large audience of players, children and families,” Smotrich wrote.

He further declared that playing on Shabbat was an “undemocratic, unsportsmanlike, non-Jewish act that must be stopped”.

In a response to Smotrich, the Israeli Professional Football Leagues said it had recently moved up the times of the games to accommodate families. “People want to see football at comfortable hours, and to be able to get back home at a normal hour, before a busy weekend,” the IPFL said.

“Football was played on Shabbat even before the founding of Israel,” the soccer body added.

Labor leader Merav Michaeli slammed Smotrich for religious coercement.

“Smotrich has not yet sat in his [coalition] seat and already, he’s trying to force his religious way of life on the entire nation of Israel,” she wrote. “Soccer games will continue as usual and if you dare to change it, the public will show you the way out. Israel will not be a theocracy.”

Read  Major ground operation in Gaza inevitable, warns Israeli minister

The letter came on the heels of an announcement by Halfon that Israel’s Premier League was set to increase the number of games on Shabbat at the behest of soccer fans, who claim that weekday games are more difficult to attend.

Despite Michaeli’s misgivings, government ministries, even the sports ministry, do not have the power to make demands of the IPFL, a private organization that is not subsidized by public monies.