The Jerusalem Municipality has decided to stop employing Jewish students to man the city's information hotline over Shabbat, and is hiring non-Jewish workers instead, the city announced Tuesday.
The decision was made just five months before the city's mayoral elections, after years of the city employing both Jewish and non-Jewish students to staff the phones on Shabbat.
The move comes as Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski awaits approval from his rabbis to run again in this year's mayoral elections.
The Jewish workers are a group of nearly 40 students, who earn nearly double their hourly NIS 22 salary for working on Saturday, as mandated by law.
"We feel that the mayor is trying to play a political game ahead of the elections," said a 25-year-old Jewish student who has worked on the city's hotline for the last four years.
The student spoke on condition of anonymity because the city spokesman had not authorized her to speak to the press.
The student, who also works during the week, said that she and her colleagues were notified last week that, on the mayor's instructions, only Arab students would be employed on Shabbat.
"This came to us as a complete surprise, and it is completely discriminatory," she said.
The new regulation went into effect immediately, and last Saturday only non-Jews were manning the city hotline, which also deals with municipal emergencies.
The Jerusalem Municipality said Tuesday that the decision was made in accordance with the law.
"Over the weekend, the municipal hotline will be manned by non-Jewish students," the city said.
"In any event, the service offered to residents will not be effected."
Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat on Tuesday blasted the "populist" move, and said that it posed a security risk.
"It is necessary to find a practical solution which will not hurt the security of the city," Barkat said in a statement.
He condemned the mayor for carrying out a "populist" move which was not coordinated with the workers, and which, he said, "endangers Jerusalem in emergency situations" and comes at the expense of the hotline's Jewish workers.
Barkat has asked a modern Orthodox rabbi to propose a solution to the issue that will be in keeping with Jewish law.
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