The Tel Aviv city council’s request for approval for public transportation on Shabbat is correct and courageous. Residents of greater Tel Aviv deserve this basic service. The argument that providing public transportation on the Sabbath and holidays would harm the religious status quo is an exaggeration and unfair.

Curbs on traffic on Shabbat, particularly on public transportation, are dictated by the Orthodox. Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods are blocked off entirely on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, and the demand by Haredi leaders and residents to respect that right is attentively obeyed. It would be logical if the rights of everyone else to travel as freely as possible on Shabbat were protected in the same way. But reality is different.

More and more neighborhoods are being blocked off on Shabbat, while a mainly political and extortionary conflict is being waged, sometimes using violence, over the right to drive on the Sabbath on major roads in Jerusalem and elsewhere. In most of the country outside Haifa, Sabbath travel requires access to a car; everywhere else, this fictitious status quo, which is not enshrined in law, results in forced isolation on the day of rest.

Those opposing Sabbath travel ignore this reality, which victimizes the weak segments of society most of all. These opponents know well that only about one in five people in the poorest decile own a car, compared with about 90 percent of the wealthy. And those without a car must pay cab fare if they wish to take part in leisure activities on Shabbat, as most of the public does, at the beach, at an art exhibit or at a performance. Cab fare or something similar is certainly required in urgent situations such as a trip to an emergency medical clinic.

Ignoring this reality grossly contradicts the sanctimonious declarations by Haredi MKs, particularly Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism, who say they look after the interests of the poor. And it runs contrary to the socially conscious image that Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Social Affairs Minister Moshe Kahlon promote so well.

Tel Aviv launched an important debate this week centered on public transportation in the country’s first Hebrew city. But it actually touches on the future of Israel’s public space as a whole.

Read this article in Hebrew