Likud MKs Surprise in Their Support of Buses Across Israel on Shabbat

'How does the roads filled with traffic jams and cars preserve the Jewish character more than operating a bus service?'

Rafi Kutz

“We must make arrangements for public transportation on Shabbat,” said MK Nava Boker (Likud) Tuesday in a meeting of the Economic Affairs Committee on public transportation on Saturdays. MK Yoav Ben-Tzur (Shas) called for the discussion because he says sometimes during the winter public transportation continues on Friday after the Jewish Sabbath has begun when the sun sets early.

MK Miki Zohar (Likud), who sponsored a bill to close businesses on Shabbat, agreed with Boker – as did Rachel Azaria (Kulanu). But the Haredi coalition partners, Shas and United Torah Judaism, oppose the proposal.

Boker objected to ending public transportation early on Fridays before sundown when Shabbat begins early, saying “the issue of public transportation on Shabbat is an issue that has split Israeli society for over two generations. I come from a traditional family, and precisely for this reason it pains me so much to see the hostility and disagreement over the day that should unite us the most.

“The central claim is that if there is public transportation on Shabbat it will cause mass desecration of Shabbat, but in reality the opposite is actually true. How does the roads filled with traffic jams and cars preserve the Jewish character more than operating a bus service? The present situation does not only damage Judaism and cause unnecessary hatred, it also harms the weaker [parts of society] who are unable to own a car. I believe with all my heart that the people of Israel will know to honor Shabbat, but the way to do this is not through coercion,” she said.

Boker also said the existing status quo on religious matters, dating back to the time of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in the early days of the state, has lost its meaning over the years, and proposed adopting new rules on the relationship between religion and the state, such as the Gavison-Medan Covenant penned by Rabbi Yaaqov Medan and Professor Ruth Gavison.

MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu) agreed with Boker: “The status quo set in 1948 on the issue of public transportation must be changed,” he said, adding that the character of the country has changed completely since then and the number people who need public transportation has grown enormously.

“We must relate to a number of critical issues: employees’ rights, the rights of the status quo and most important, the public’s rights. Today there are millions of citizens who do not have the ability to move without public transportation solutions, and we must provide them with these solutions,” said Ilatov.

Ben-Tzur said public transportation in many areas is regularly eroding the religious status quo, and many bus lines desecrate Shabbat in violation of transportation regulations. He said it is not a matter of coercion, but only preserving the status quo and not violating it with various justifications. MK Oren Hazan (Likud) and Uri Maklev (UTJ) agreed with Ben-Tzur: “If buses drive on Shabbat even though they are not supposed to, we must deal with it,” said Maklev.

Committee chairman Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) said the issue of operating public transportation on Shabbat is not up for discussion, but the question is whether there has been an increase in the number of permits for public transportation provided to operators and whether there has really been a significant amount of public transportation that runs over into Shabbat on Fridays.

Cabel criticized the Transportation Ministry for not providing the relevant data, and asked for the information to be given to the Knesset Research and Information Center. He said he will consider the need for another session on the matter based on this data.