Members of the left-wing Meretz party petitioned the High Court of Justice on Wednesday morning, asking the court to order the Transportation Ministry to allow public transport on Shabbat in Tel Aviv.

In February, the Tel Aviv Municipal Council approved a resolution to ask the Transportation Ministry for permission to operate public transport on Shabbat.

Meretz Councilwoman Tamar Zandberg proposed the motion in conjunction with the secularist Be Free Israel organization, and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai also supported it.

However, hours after the motion passed, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz rejected it outright, saying he had no intention of violating the status quo.

In their petition, Meretz representatives MK Nitzan Horowitz and Meretz faction members from the Tel Aviv Municipality argued that Katz’s refusal to consider Shabbat transport was contrary to his obligations under the law.

The petitioners stated that about 40 percent of Tel Aviv- Jaffa residents do not own a car, that the city has around 35,000 non-Jewish residents and that allowing public transportation on Shabbat would also have positive environmental implications.

The petition further notes that Haifa and Eilat already run public transportation on Shabbat, taxi services run all throughout the country and that the Transportation Ministry also permits Ben-Gurion Airport to run on Saturdays.

Katz had “completely disregarded” these considerations, the petitioners contend.

Among other things, the petition also addressed the transportation minister’s argument that he did not want to change the status quo.

The petitioners argued that the “status quo,” including regarding Shabbat public transportation, dates back to before the State of Israel was established.

In 1947, when the British Mandate of Palestine had a population of around 400,000 Jews, David Ben- Gurion wrote a letter to the Agudat Israel, the original political party representing ultra-Orthodox Jews in prestate Israel.

In that letter, the future first prime minister of Israel made promises about “saving the country’s Jewish character,” the petition said, arguing that this was the roots of what Katz referred to as the “status quo.”

Attempts to anchor the “status quo” in legislation have failed, the petitioners continued.

The transportation minister is obligated as a representative of government authority, to consider all relevant data when deciding specific issues, so that the public derives the greatest benefit, they added.

“Efficient public transport must work seven days a week,” Horowitz said on Tuesday. “Suspending this essential service because of religious coercion, is intolerable, harmful to the environment and to society.”

The Meretz MK added that the resolution by the Tel Aviv Municipality regarding public transport on Shabbat was a “historic decision.”

He accused the transportation minister of surrendering to religious coercion and “hiding behind the hollow facade of the ‘status quo.’” “The government is mistreating the large segment of the public who do not have a car, who cannot drive or who do not want to pay for fuel and parking, and who would like public transportation, all because of ancient arrangements with ultra-Orthodox parties, which are now obsolete,” Horowitz added.

“We hope the High Court will put an end to this folly and allow municipalities and cities who wish to run public transport on Shabbat to do so, just as they do in Haifa and Eilat, without disturbing the ultra-Orthodox public,” he said.

Zandberg said that Meretz filed the petition because the faction believed the transportation minister’s refusal to consider public transport on Shabbat was unreasonable and not really lawful.

“[The issue] is of great importance and central to our lives,” Zandberg said, adding that the “status quo” had lost its relevance a long time ago.

Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Meital Lehavi, also of Meretz, touched on environmental issues, adding that people are forced to purchase private vehicles because there is no public transport on Shabbat.

On Wednesday afternoon, the High Court asked the transportation minister to file a response to the petition by May 31.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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