Greens and Special Interests Collide on the Ayalon Highway

Two bills that would return billboards to the road are accelerating.

Media and outdoor advertising companies never truly believed that the billboard advertisements along the Ayalon highway would be removed for good. Although a court order to that effect, ruling that such signs are illegal, went into effect last month, media companies for the most part have responded by either covering existing signs with sheets of cloth, or removing the ads themselves while leaving the scaffolding intact. One went so far as to "cover" its ad with largely transparent cloth.

And in fact, it appears that one of the great achievements of environmental organizations in recent years, the successful appeal to the courts for the ban of the ads, will not hold up for long.

Kadima leader Ehud Olmert, Labor leader Ehud Barak and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef - the spiritual leader of the Shas party - are allied in support of a bill that would legalize reinstatement of outdoor advertisement along the Ayalon. Their faces may well be able to smile upon the voter on the road in upcoming election campaigns.

Even though the Likud party opposes the bill as part of its support for the green agenda, Benjamin Netanyahu will also be able to join them.

The reason is that the Knesset plenum is expected to approve a bill submitted by MK Yoram Marciano (Labor) to reinstate signage along the Ayalon. Simultaneously, Yoel Hasson (Kadima) has already submitted another bill on the issue as well. Immediately after initial approval of the bill, road-sign companies will apply to the court for permission to repost the huge advertisements along the highway that cuts through Tel Aviv from south to north.

From the moment the signs were removed from along the highway, it was clear that the last word had not been said. The legislative proposals submitted by Hasson and Marciano hovered in the background. The services of lobbyists Aliza Goren and Tomer Amir were hired by Baram sign company, and its competitor Nur brought in public-relations consultant Naftali Ben Simon.

One of the central claims by representatives of the sign companies has been that failure of the new bill to pass would result in the layoffs of 5,000 workers employed in the road sign industry. Notably, although the signs along the Ayalon have already been removed, there have been no reports of massive layoffs so far.

Nevertheless, and regardless of the lobbying efforts, the media firms can safely rub their hands in satisfaction: Already three weeks ago, the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee approved scheduling of the preliminary vote on the bill. Naturally, MK Marciano welcomed the news. "Most laws in the country are based on economic considerations. Shouldn't the employees of road sign companies Nur, Edri and Baram receive legal protection like those of other firms?"

The Economic Affairs Committee reached its decision in opposition to the position of the police. "Anytime we don't have our eyes on the road, it's dangerous," the national police traffic engineer told the committee. "Signs capture the eye and our attention is turned from the road to the sign. In those two seconds of inattention, the driver has moved 50 meters forward," he said.

Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, who was to have presented the ministry's position on th eissue, was absent for the vote.