An Egged bus sits in a parking lot .
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Following recent announcements made by Transportation Minister Israel Katz that the government does not intend to change the status quo regarding public transportation on Shabbat and holidays, MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) submitted a bill on Monday that would ban ministers from using government vehicles on these days.
“Enough with the hypocrisy and the two-facedness – he who is preventing the public from being mobile on Shabbat cannot at the same time request the financing of his travels,” Zandberg said. “Minister Katz and the ministers who object leave us with no choice. It seems that only if their cars are stopped from operating will they understand the need for public transportation on Shabbat.”
Zandberg’s bill explicitly aims to forbid ministers and deputy ministers to make use of government- owned vehicles on Shabbat and holidays, as long as public transportation remains unavailable during those times.
The proposal, she explained, is supported by tens of thousands of citizens who signed an online petition on the subject, and will be discussed in the near future upon the resumption of Knesset activities.
The legislation – which is the second bill Zandberg filed in the past eight days connected to public transportation – follows a statement published by Katz on Facebook last Wednesday regarding the issue.
“The Israeli government supports the preservation of the status quo in the matter of public transportation on Shabbat and holidays, according to the principle established since the days of David Ben-Gurion – the first prime minister – and as all governments of Israel have acted,” Katz wrote. “As transportation minister I take part in this position, and personally also think it is correct. Israel is a Jewish and democratic state, and as such it must maintain unique rules related to identity, when personally each individual has the freedom to do what he or she wants.”
Several days prior to Katz’s statement, Zandberg and the other four Meretz MKs submitted additional legislation that aims to permit public transportation on Shabbat and on holidays. This bill focuses on allowing transportation to run on these days, although trains and buses would operate less frequently in comparison to weekdays.
Zandberg submitted this first bill on April 5, the same day that a group of Facebook users rallied against Katz, demanding that he personally arrange rides for those who needed them on the long weekend when the seventh day of Passover and Saturday occurred consecutively.
Overnight that Sunday, Katz responded to a Facebook post on the matter, urging the protesters to “turn to [Zionist Union chairman Isaac] Buji Herzog, who pledged not to sit in a government that will not change the status quo.”
“Your hypocrisy and that of your leftist friends, salary drawers at NGOs ‘in favor of public transportation’ was proven in the last elections, and received the appropriate answer at the polls,” he wrote.
The next day, Herzog weighed in to the discussion – though via Twitter rather than Facebook.
“There is no doubt that Israel Katz learned from Bibi an important message – always throw the problem on someone else, and on the way – continue to decry citizens.”
Disputes between secular Israelis, who would like public transportation on Shabbat, and the government have been ongoing for decades, with the original rules stemming from an understanding just prior to the establishment of the State of Israel.
In 1947, soon-to-be prime minister David Ben-Gurion made an agreement with the Agudat Yisrael movement, which represented the ultra-Orthodox community at the time, regarding the status of religion in the future state. Since then, this status has been preserved by the government, and includes elements such as restricting public transportation on Shabbat and holidays.
As far as the latest bill is concerned, Zandberg accused government members of using the status quo “as an excuse for not fulfilling their duty to the public.”
“The behavior of Transportation Minister Katz and of other government ministers leaves us no choice but to turn to a parliamentary step to demonstrate the inequality,” she said.Lahav Harkov contributed to this report