A Stormy Union: Israel's Daylight Savings Time Wars

Nothing new under the sun: Israel's tormented relationship with the time change goes a long way back.

Ofer Aderet
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Children playing on the Ashdod beach at sunset. August 17, 2013.Credit: Ilan Asayag
Ofer Aderet

If you were worried that you might get confused on Friday when the clocks were set an hour ahead and daylight saving time began, you can take solace in the fact that Israel has never really managed to handle the time change very well, ever since it was first enacted in 1940.

“The change that began since Saturday night with the first ever use of daylight saving’s time has caused quite a bit of confusion,” read Haaretz on June 2, 1940, two days after daylight saving time was first implemented in Israel. “Despite the notification in the newspapers and broadcast on Jerusalem radio, it was difficult for many to get used to it,” reported the newspaper. The Bima theatre, for example, did not update its performance schedule, and set the daily performance for 20:30, as usual. Showings in many movie theaters that day began a half hour late.

A day later, on June 3rd, Haaretz's editorial was dedicated to the subject, attempting to encourage frustrated readers “fate determined that daylight saving’s time would come upon us along with one of the toughest heat waves of the year. Perhaps for that reason it was difficult for us to sufficiently prepare for our first meeting with the new time. It has lengthened scorching days, which seem as if they will never end. It shortened our evening, the times we were able to hide from the angry sun.” But the paper proposed staying optimistic. “There is no doubt that we will get used to this new arrangement, and we’ll feel the difference in our electric bills at the end of the month… the initial, less significant difficulties, like store closing hours and theatre performances will also work out.”

Daylight saving time in Israel lasted seven years, until March 30, 1947, when the British, who ruled Israel back then, announced that they were putting an end to it. It seems that the locals had gotten used to it by then, as Haaretz harshly criticized the decision. An article entitled “The authorities and the sun,” read as follows: “The authorities’ decision is a test from above, they’re testing us on little things and large things alike: there are no explanations, they don’t bother to provide justifications. They decided, and that’s it. The community, wonders why, but there’s no answer.”

Also written at the time: “Public opinion, which is finally concerned with the principles of this decision, consulted. Reasons for the change to a system which has existed here for many years, and also practiced in other nations were not given. Despite the turbulence of our world, the laws of nature remain unchanged. The sun rises and sets also in sorrowful years, according to timetables determined not by mortals. If in recent years we have seen the benefits of adapting our lives to the ways of the sun, what reasons exist for refraining from making these accommodations next year as well?

A few days later, the British announced that the reason behind the decision was to “make Israel fit in with the other nations of the Middle East.” The British decision did not last long – reinstating daylight saving time was one of the first decision the new government established after the British left made. In May 1948, right after Israel declared independence, daylight saving time was reinstated, further more, it was extended to a two-hour change instead of the one-hour change the British imposed. Haaretz reported that “this arrangement is meant to preserve the peoples' health during the summer months, and will create a great deal of savings for the national economy.”

It seemed that Haaretz editors were in favor of daylight saving time back then, but the public less so, judging by the letters to the editor. “Children don’t wake themselves up in the morning, I have to wake them so that they will manage to eat and get to school on time,” one reader wrote angrily, singing “citizen,” in May 1953. “Were it not for daylight saving’s time, they would get up on their own, and there wouldn’t be any of the annoyance in hastily getting the children to school. I also work with clerks. None of them finish their work after four. What, therefore, is the difference if we finish an hour before or after? Why, therefore, are we forced to wake up and rush ourselves to eat and get to work?”

Interior Minister Israel Rokach decided to appoint a public commission to investigate and justify daylight saving time. The commission included representatives from the Transportation, Labor, Education, Health and Interior Ministries, as well as representatives from industrial, labor, and women’s organizations and educators.

The members consulted with the electric company, with theater owners, the Chief Rabbinate, as well as the railways and port operators, El Al, and the Dan bus company. After five meetings, it was decided that daylight saving time would continue.

Despite the commission’s decision, four years later in 1958 it was decided to put an end to daylight saving time following a national referendum, which, according to the Interior Ministry, produced “contradictory and controversial” responses. Daylight saving time was then reinstated in 1974, due to the financial crisis that affected Israel after the Yom Kippur War and the world energy crisis, but was cancelled again two years later.

In 1980, the issue reached the Supreme Court when an engineer from Ramat Gan sought to force the Interior Ministry to bring daylight saving time back. Then Interior Minster Yosef Burg claimed that “daylight saving time does more damage than good.” The justices determined that according to the law, Burg was allowed to determine when daylight saving time would take effect, but not cancel it completely, and forced the Interior Ministry to reinstate daylight saving time that year. In response, the Knesset changed the law a year later, granting the Interior Ministry the authority to make the final decision.

Haaretz called Burg “the minister marching against time,” on March 24 1982. “As we know, the minster and his ministry officials have preconceived notions on the matter for well-known reasons: the issue is connected to the times for morning prayers and Shabbat,” read the Haaretz editorial that day. “These considerations and their modest importance aside, we must treat with suspicion the Interior Ministry statement that daylight saving time doesn’t lead to savings. Is it possible that all of Western Europe and the United States as well as dozens of other states are wrong on this matter? Israelis pay very high prices, and often have to make difficult concessions; giving up on the savings that daylight saving time would bring is one of the more unnecessary concessions they have to make.”

File photo: The Hermon ski resort in July. Credit: Yaron Kaminsky

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