Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz instructed public transportation activists to address their concerns to Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog on Sunday night, in response to a Facebook post regarding the lack of transportation to be available on the upcoming long weekend.
"I will respond one time to this subject," Katz wrote overnight on Sunday. "Turn to Buji Herzog, who pledged not to sit a government that will not change the status quo. Your hypocrisy and that of your leftist friends, salary withdrawers at NGOs 'in favor of public transportation' was proven in the last elections, and received the appropriate answer at the polls."
Katz was reacting to a link posted on his most recent Facebook status by commenter Omry Hazut, inviting readers to a Facebook event entitled, in Hebrew, "Yisrael Katz, smart hitchhiking board of the state, take care of us on the seventh day of Passover." Due to the fact that the last night of Passover runs directly into Shabbat, no public transportation will be available to Israelis from Thursday evening through Saturday night. As of Monday evening, more than 1,100 people signed up for the Facebook event, which demands that Katz personally arrange rides for those in need during the two-day period.
Soon after Katz posted his response, Hazut wrote back to the minister, indicating that he is a member of "the Rav-Kav owners party in Israel," referring to the refillable, multi-use public transportation card, Rav-Kav.
"This is a party of people who use public transportation all their lives and who depend on it, just as vehicle owners depend on their cars," Hazut wrote.
"What's the connection to Buji Herzog?" he continued. "Is this his duty whatsoever? Is he the transportation minister? Is he the prime minister? Leftwing NGOs? You think that only leftists use public transportation?"
"I invite you to take a tour with me on the light rail in Jerusalem, on line 480 from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv or other lines of Dan and other companies, and see the entire country there – rightists, leftists, elderly, haredim, youth, children and in short – everyone," Hazut added.
Despite originally stating he would respond only once to the issue, Katz followed up with a second reaction, indicating that Hazut's leftist political stance is clear to him, due to Facebook posts regarding the prime minister.
"Because you are feigning innocence, I will clarify for you for the second time: the status quo regarding Shabbat is anchored to legislation that exists since the establishment of the state and in political agreements, and is not connected to personal policies of the transportation minister," Katz wrote. "Not a single party pledged not to sit in the government without the status quo being changed. In the next election a party will be established and will request the trust of the public, and meanwhile will cease this demonstration of hypocrisy."
Early Monday afternoon, Herzog weighed in to the discussion – though via Twitter, rather than Facebook.
"There is no doubt that Yisrael 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 has 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.
Outside of the public transportation sector, establishments providing leisure activities and can choose to stay open on Shabbat, while most other shops are closed. Nonetheless, many restaurants close their doors because the rabbinate will not issue a kashrut certificate of kashrut if they open on Shabbat.
Limited bus service runs in Haifa on Shabbat as per the status quo, which the government originally instituted to account for the needs of the city’s large non-Jewish population.
Late afternoon Monday, by which time the Facebook posts were circulating around the Israeli media, Katz's office relayed an official statement on the matter, stressing that public transportation “operates in accordance with the status quo,” as it has since the founding of the State of Israel.
"Those who demand public transportation on Shabbat and holidays do not represent the majority of public transportation users, but are organizations and groups associated mostly with the left, and are acting methodically against the government, as we saw in the last election,” the statement from the minister's office said. “It is surprising that none of these entities filed any complaints to leftist parties, which have not stated even once that they would not sit in a government that does not introduce public transportation on Shabbats and holidays."
In response to Monday’s discussion, Tel Aviv City Council member Mickey Gitzin (Meretz), who has been a strong advocate of public transportation on Shabbat, told The Jerusalem Post that “the way he behaved and answered is just ridiculous.
“Instead of actually explaining his policy of keeping the country shutdown on holidays and Shabbat he just went and started speaking against people using public transportation, accusing them of being leftists,” he said.
Gitzin is also the chairman of the organization Israel Hofshit
– Be Free Israel, which convinced the Tel Aviv municipality and other cities in 2012 to submit requests to the Transportation Ministry for public transportation authorization on Shabbat. Gitzin was elected to the city council the following year. Israel Hofshit
also unsuccessfully tried to push for the operation of more group taxis, known as moniot sherut
, he explained.
The Tel Aviv campaign, Gitzin acknowledged, served as a “general declaration” of the city’s wishes, but served “no practical implications,” due to the fact that only the Transportation Ministry can institute such changes.
"There is a serious question on the issues of public transportation in Israel in general and definitely on Shabbat," he said.
Public transportation systems are much more cohesive and effective if they operate on weekends and holidays, in addition to normal weekdays, Gitzin argued.
"Every environmental or public transport expert will tell you that if you shut down public transport in Israel so often, of course people won't switch from cars to public transport," he said.
Regarding Katz’s Facebook posts specifically, Gitzin added, "To start talking against public transport users is just insane and unheard of."
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.