Israeli Government Shoots Down Shabbat Transport Proposal

Draft bill, which would allow cities to operate public transportation on Jewish day of rest, stymied by coalition considerations with ultra-Orthodox parties.

Limor Edrei

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation opposes the proposal by three Yesh Atid MKs to allow local governments to operate public transportation on Shabbat.

The draft bill submitted to the committee on Sunday morning suggested operating minibuses on the Jewish sabbath in order to help weaker populations to get to places of entertainment and recreation in the city without paying for taxis.

By opposing the bill, the committee virtually ensured that it would not pass a reading at the Knesset, as the committee's decisions bind the coalition partners.

“The ministerial committee ignored the wishes of the public and prevented a socially oriented law designed to help those without a private car or a license to get to places of entertainment and recreation on Shabbat and holidays. The committee is a captive of coalition agreements that prevent laws to improve public life, and this time the victims are teenagers starting vacation tomorrow, the elderly and poor families who can’t afford to travel by taxi,” said MK Yael German.

“The State of Israel continues to maintain the present policy, in which only someone with money and a car can travel on Shabbat and all the rest have to cope and stay home,” said fellow Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharrar, chair of the State Control Committee. “The policy is clear and the decision proves that there’s no attempt to achieve equality, no concern for individual rights and no thinking out of the box.”

A survey conducted by the Smith Institute late last week for Hiddush - For Religious Freedom and Equality among a representative sampling of 500 Jewish adults found that 72 percent of Israelis support public transportation on Shabbat, including 52 percent of the religious community.

Among supporters of the bill, 41 percent support transportation “of limited scope, on major routes with less frequency, perhaps with sherut taxis [shared minibuses that follow the bus routes],” and 31 percent support “full public transportation as on weekdays.”

Among the coalition parties, the percentages of those supporting partial or full public transportation on Shabbat were 65 percent of Likud voters, 86 percent of Kulanu voters, 91 percent of Yisrael Beitenu voters and 61 percent of Habayit Hayehudi supporters. Most voters for opposition parties support public transportation on Shabbat: 93 percent of Zionist Union voters, 94 percent of Yesh Atid voters and 94 percent of Meretz voters. Coalition parties most of whose voters are opposed (only the ultra-Orthodox parties) are Shas, with 80 percent and United Torah Judaism (100 percent).

“There’s an intolerable gap between public opinion, including the coalition’s electorate, which favors public transportation on Shabbat, and the criminal imperviousness of the coalition. In spite of that and of the vital need, the Transportation Ministry doesn’t allow it,” said Hiddush Executive Director Rabbi Uri Regev.

Regev said that “it’s hard to think of a fairer and more proportionate draft bill: The decision to operate transportation on Shabbat would be transferred to the residents, only essential routes would operate, and at the necessary frequency. There’s no logical reason to reject the proposal except for religious coercion for its own sake and the coalition’s embarrassing submission to this belligerence. It’s exactly the type of coercion that makes the ultra-Orthodox parties and the Chief Rabbinate the greatest enemies of Judaism, and causes the general public to hate Judaism.”