The proposal to allow public transportation to operate in the city on Shabbat, approved on Monday by the Tel Aviv city council, was hedged so highly with qualifiers that buses are unlikely to leave their garage on Friday evening and Saturday.
In two places the resolution used the term “and should this be overturned,” followed by less desirable alternatives in the event the Transportation Ministry and the cabinet reject the proposal. The resolution also included an explicit proviso: “It should be mentioned that authority to operate public transportation on Shabbat does not rest with the municipality, and so this subject must be discussed by the cabinet.”
Such qualifiers attest to the decision’s true nature. This was a rhetorical, declarative move whose prospects of actual adoption and implementation are practically nil.
The council even lacks the statutory authority to appeal to the Transportation Ministry on its own initiative.
The issue of public transportation on the Jewish Sabbath is slated for discussion at an upcoming meeting of the municipality’s executive committee, which functions as a kind of city cabinet comprised of the coalition parties. Should the executive committee authorize this decision, Tel Aviv will then turn to the national transportation supervisor, a post currently held by Transportation Ministry Director General Alex Langer. In all probability, the decision will reach the desk of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who will not authorize the use of public buses on Shabbat; possibly Katz will refer the matter to the cabinet. The disposition of the Netanyahu on the government on the issue is not open to doubt − the buses are likely to remain in their garages.
Other options mentioned in the resolution are also problematic. An alternative supported by Meretz council member Tamar Zandberg calls for establishing a municipal bus company that would operate on Shabbat. This option, however, would violation municipal coalition agreements and requires Transportation Ministry approval.
Another option is to expand the existing sherut taxi routes, a type of jitney service that operates throughout the week but only on a small number of routes. This, too, requires the approval of the transportation minister.
Anything Tel Aviv decides on behalf of public transportation service on Shabbat must be resolved on the national level.
The proposal approved by the city council involves bus service from outlying neighborhoods to the city center, and to the beaches, and back, with much lower frequency than the weekday bus service.
Transportation Ministry officials, from Katz on down, did not comment on the resolution, on Tuesday. Other government officials alluded to “media spin” and emphasized that the city has not yet submitted a proposal to national authorities.
On Monday the ministry’s spokesman issued a laconic statement referring to “the decades-long status quo regarding the operation of public transportation on Shabbat.” The ministry, the spokesman noted, “has no intention” of violating this status quo. This declaration essentially rendered the Tel Aviv council action moot.
Zandberg said secular residents of Tel Aviv are prepared to compromise over businesses operating on Shabbat in exchange for public bus service. “I don’t need to buy things on the Sabbath,” she explained.
“I view the council decision as a form of public pressure,” Zandberg said. “This is how things get gone. In the past, Israeli television did not broadcast on Shabbat. Of course, this is a political decision; in all probability the right-wing, Orthodox government will not sponsor change, but we still have to apply pressure. Last summer proved that public pressure can work.”
The Transportation Ministry referred to a “status quo” in which buses do not run on Shabbat, and yet there is public transportation in Haifa and East Jerusalem on Shabbat. The foundations of that status quo were established during the British Mandate, prior to Israeli independence in 1948. The criteria it used for deciding on the operation of bus service in a community on Shabbat included the total size of the population, the number of non-Jewish residents and the access to emergency medical services in the absence of public transportation.
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