Labor Party's Shabbat Bus Ruled Illegal by Election Committee

Election board chairman says proposed campaign push for public transport on Saturday constitutes 'gift' to potential voters

Israeli Labor's Shabbat bus campaign in central Israel, February 2019.
Israel Labor Party

Israel's Central Elections Committee ruled on Friday it was illegal for the Labor Party to operate public buses on Saturdays, amid ongoing debate in Israel over public services on Shabbat.

Justice Hanan Melcer, the committee's chairman, said the proposed bus line in the central city of Rishon Letzion constitutes "a gift" to voters, ahead of the April 9 election.

Ultra-Orthodox party Shas asked the committee earlier on Friday to prevent Labor from following through with its campaign push, dubbing it "cynical and confrontational". Labor chairman Avi Gabbay said his party remains committed to advance public transport on Shabbat, adding it "will not let Shas decide" on the issue.

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Labor's Shabbat bus campaign

In a statement, Labor activists asked Melcer not to "allow Shas to coerce Israeli citizens into [living by] their beliefs." They added they are "proud to allow Rishon Letzion residents who don't keep Shabbat the option they're deprived of due to religious coercion – getting from one place to another using public transport."

On Saturday, for the first time, public transportation operated in the city of Tiberias on Shabbat. Mayor Ron Kobi decided to launch a municipal bus line in cooperation with the Noa Tanua organization, which operates buses on Shabbat in several cities.

The mayor was among the city residents to use the new bus line on Shabbat, as were members of Noa Tanua. “We want equal rights, we’re fed up with ultra-Orthodox and religious coercion,” Kobi said, adding that ultra-Orthodox Interior Minister Arye Dery and Shas chairman “ought to go home.”

Since his election in October, Kobi has been working to organize events on Shabbat, in defiance of the city's growing ultra-Orthodox community. This is a radical change from previous years, when the increase in the ultra-Orthodox population led to the city being shut down almost completely on Shabbat.

Noa Tanua, which has used crowdfunding campaigns for its activity, independently operates Shabbat buses in Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, Givatayim and Be’er Sheva, which collectively transport some 9,000 people.