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.
Tamar Zandberg proposed the motion in conjunction with the secularist Be Free
Israel organization, and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai also supported
However, hours after the motion passed, Transportation Minister
Yisrael Katz rejected it outright, saying he had no intention of violating the
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
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
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.
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
The Meretz MK added that the resolution by the Tel Aviv
Municipality regarding public transport on Shabbat was a “historic
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.
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
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
On Wednesday afternoon, the High Court asked the transportation
minister to file a response to the petition by May 31.
contributed to this report.