The Tel Aviv Municipal Council approved a resolution Monday night to ask the Transportation Ministry for permission to operate public transport systems on Shabbat.

Proposed by Meretz Councilwoman Tamar Zandberg, in conjunction with the secularist Be Free Israel organization, the motion passed 13-7, and was also supported by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.

“Whoever doesn’t want to get on a bus on Shabbat doesn’t have to,” the mayor said after the vote.

According to the proposal, the municipality will request permission from the commissioner for public transport of to operate public transit on Shabbat. The commissioner is authorized by law to approve such requests in cases where a municipality considers such services to be essential, as well as in situations where public transport serves a non-Jewish population, or for the purposes of transport to a hospital.

The proposal will now continue to the municipality administration where it will most likely pass as well.

“There’s no doubt this is a great achievement, almost historic,” said Be Free Israel Director Mickey Gitzin following the vote. “It’s now a campaign that has just begun, and along with this optimism, the politicians have to know that we’re not going home until there’s a bus to take us there. No one can bury this struggle.”

Binyamin Babayouf, a Tel Aviv city councilman for Shas, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that he and his party would fight against any effort to run public transport in the city on Shabbat and festivals.

“The [ancient] Greeks, Stalin and Communist Russia and many others have all tried to prevent Jews from observing Shabbat, but none of them succeeded and they won’t succeed here in Tel Aviv, either.

Babayouf denied that the lack of public transportation on Shabbat constituted religious coercion and said that no one was trying to force people to be religiously observant.

“More than the Jewish people have guarded Shabbat – Shabbat has guarded the Jewish people,” he said. “It is one of the greatest things that has distinguished us from other peoples. If we open government offices and run public transport, what will be the difference between a Jew living here and a Jew living in the US, Europe or Uganda? What did we come here for?” he asked.

A spokesman for Yisrael Meir Lau, Tel Aviv’s chief rabbi, said he would not comment publicly on the issue.

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