September 27, 2023

Bezalel Smotrich claims that the Israeli Soccer Leagues administration acts in a ‘patronizing and aggressive’ manner and chooses to ‘blatantly ignore’ a large audience of religious players, children and families by having matches played on Saturday.

The head of the far-right Religious Zionism party claimed in a letter to the head of the Israeli Soccer Leagues Administration on Monday that scheduling matches on Saturday represents “a continuation of harming the Masorti-religious public in Israel by the soccer institutions.”

While the administration aims to “draw as many people as possible to the stadiums, especially families, soldiers and children,” Bezalel Smotrich wrote, its “disregard and inflexibility toward such a huge audience is severe.”

“For you, new audiences do not include the fans who observe Shabbat and tradition in Israel. The administration continues to behave in a patronizing and aggressive manner. I’m calling you again – let’s work together to develop a plan that will open the gates of soccer to everyone,” Smotrich added.

“Soccer on Saturday is an Israeli tradition,” said Uri Keidar, CEO of Be Free Israel (“Israel Hofsheet”), a non-profit that supports religious freedom and pluralism, “which does not prevent the extremists from seeking to destroy it in the name of Israel’s future as a halakhic state.

“We urge the league management to come up with a solution that would permit religious fans to attend games without having to purchase tickets on the spot, and in a manner that respects their beliefs – and to throw Smotrich’s letter in the trash.”

The Soccer Leagues Administration said in response that “Since before the establishment of the state, soccer has been played in Israel on Saturdays. We shift the game times in the winter, when the temperatures drop, to make it easier for kids and families to get to the soccer fields.

“The move is a great success, and as you can see the games in the early hours are full of children, women and soldiers who go home for the weekend, want to watch football at a convenient time and be able to return at a normal time before a busy week. Israeli soccer is played on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, so those who want to attend the Israeli football games can find the most convenient day for them – secular and religious alike.”

In 2016, an inter-ministerial committee, established by then-Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev recommended creating a legal framework to permit soccer games on Shabbat, and recommended providing solutions for players who observe Shabbat and asked not to play for religious reasons.

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