On Sunday, June 19, the ministerial legislation committee rejected a bill proposed by MK Yael German (Yesh Atid) that would allow local authorities in Israel to decide whether to operate public transportation on the Jewish Sabbath (Friday evening to Saturday night). The chances of the bill’s winning ministerial support were poor from the start, because when the Likud signed its coalition agreements with the Shas, United Torah Judaism, and HaBayit HaYehudi parties, it committed itself “to preserve the status quo in matters of religion and state.”
The municipality of Herzliya announced several days ago that it will begin operating public transportation on the Sabbath in July. In recent years, the deputy mayor of Tel Aviv sent Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz a request to allow the operation of regular public transportation lines on Saturday using 10-passenger taxis, but no response was forthcoming. In a talk with the economic newspaper Globes, the chairman of the Knesset Subcommittee for Public Transportation, MK Dov Khenin (Hadash – Joint List), strongly attacked the Ministry of Transport, saying, “The situation is criminal. The ministry is breaching its duty to provide public transportation to hospitals and other places on Saturday.”
According to a survey published by Smith Institute, 72% of the Jewish public in Israel now supports complete or limited public transportation on Saturdays and holidays. The poll was conducted by Rafi and Hanoch Smith at the request of the NGO Hiddush [Renewal] – for Religious Freedom and Equality. The findings of the survey point to increasing support for this policy: in 2010 58% of the Jewish public supported it while in 2011 support had increased to 63%. According to the Smith Institute survey, 94% of the non-observant Jewish public favor public transportation on the Sabbath, compared to 67% who identify themselves as “traditional.” Interestingly, 52% of the religious public also supports public transportation on the Sabbath (49% are for partial transportation, while an additional 3% support full public transportation). Among the haredim (ultra-Orthodox), 97% oppose any public transportation on the Sabbath.