This weekend it’s finally happening – 110 years after the founding of the city, Tel Aviv residents, visitors and tourists will be able to use public transportation on a Friday evening and the following Saturday. True, in recent months other municipalities have started using shuttle services on Shabbat, some of them reaching Tel Aviv, but when this happens in the first modern Hebrew city, it’s nothing less than sensational, with ramifications for the entire country.
Public transportation on weekends will allow many residents who don’t own a car and for whom taxi fare is a burden to move freely around the metropolitan area. Public transportation on weekends will also significantly reduce the need to use cars that pollute the environment and clog up our roads. Most of all, this is a huge message to the secular community and for anyone espousing the values of freedom and liberalism.
I hear many complaints in the ultra-Orthodox community and the extreme part of the religious-Zionist community decrying an “insult to their feelings,” or that these communities are being deliberately targeted. No arguments are as pathetic and well-worn as these.
No one championing a secular agenda, myself included, seeks to offend anyone. All we want is justice, enabling many Israelis to live according to their principles and receive basic services. These include civil burial, civil marriage, adoption and surrogacy rights for the LGBT community, true secular education in state schools without constant attempts to inject religion into the curriculum, a ban on segregating women in the public space – and public transportation on Shabbat and holidays.
Israeli politics is currently tied up in knots amid all the uncertainty about the makeup of the next government. This is a problem for all of us from every perspective. But after years of an extremist ultra-Orthodox/religious-Zionist hegemony under which functionaries of these parties have eroded the rights of the nonreligious community, there is now a chance to achieve real change.
A growing number of parties realize that liberal Israeli society has been hurt over the last decade by the tight links and mutual dependency between the prime minister, the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, and extremist religious-Zionist circles, for which he is now a natural ally.
A few weeks ago, several dozen deputy mayors and members of municipal councils, myself included, appealed to prime ministerial candidate Benny Gantz and the heads of left-wing parties. We demanded that he include in any coalition agreement a commitment he made to the secular community to ensure that the change regarding public transportation on Shabbat takes place.
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This new development in Tel Aviv and other municipalities in the area must show leaders of secular parties that now is the time to enshrine this change in legislation, making it accessible to many Israelis throughout the country. Public transportation on Shabbat provides a tailwind for the secular community’s rights in other areas on the agenda – and it’s the duty of whoever forms the next government to act accordingly.
Reuven Ladianski is a deputy mayor of Tel Aviv and an environmental activist.