Shabbat Bus Protests Grow

Demonstrator for Shabbat buses in Jerusalem

The movement for Shabbat public transportation is growing. Today Ramat Gan will be voting on whether or not to join Tel Aviv in seeking public transportation on Shabbat.

MyNet also reports that Jerusalem Deputy Mayor, Pepe Alou, will propose Shabbat bus transportation between areas heavily populated by secular student and entertainment centers. He expects significant opposition, but says he is planning to argue the case as a life saving measure: public transportation would prevent students from driving home intoxicated. Meanwhile Hebrew University students have contracted for private bus service from campus to the city center. The service is scheduled to begin next week.

Last Shabbat (February 25), 400 people demonstrated in favor of public transportation on Shabbat in seven different cities around Israel, among them Tel Aviv, Ranaana, Holon, Rosh Ayin and Jerusalem.  The demonstrations were organized by Israel Hofshit.

Polls show that support for this change goes well beyond the protesters themselves. The numbers in support vary from poll to poll, but they all show a majority in favor public transportation on Shabbat:

The Galgalatz results no doubt reflect the listening audience. Galgalatz plays Israeli and American pop music and presumably has a largely secular audience. However, support crosses religious lines. For instance the 2009 Central Bureau of Statistics study found that support for public tranportation on Shabbat broke down by religious identity as follows: 78% of secular, 58% of somewhat religious, 39% of somewhat more religious, 26% of religious and 4% of Haredim.

The reasons for support from the more traditional often arise from a concern about the ill-will and anti-religious feeling created by religious coercion, especially in mostly secular cities. Talia Farkish, an observant op-ed writer for HaAretz said that restricting people’s enjoyment of their day off in the name of a religion they don’t believe in would only further alienate the non-religious. Another observant Ynet commentator said he was loathe to force someone to abide by his own beliefs:

For people who see public transportation as their only viable option, halting Israel’s bus service on Saturdays is a grave act of religious coercion bordering on fundamental violation of one’s freedom of movement. There is no justification whatsoever for making people who require public transportation and do not keep the Shabbat hate their day off because of the flawed bus service. This does not serve religion or the religious, but rather, only provokes dispute and anger. Just like I expect secular Israelis to refrain from traveling through haredi neighborhoods on Shabbat, even if it means that they must drive a little longer, I also expect the haredim not to prevent Tel Aviv, a fully secular city, from providing its residents with public transportation on Shabbat.

There are also non-religious Jews who are against Shabbat buses. The most common reason is concern that buses will encourage bustle and noise. One commentator also worried that any aggitation for change actually will give more power to the Haredim when they want to push their religious practices into the public sphere.

The Shabbat bus transportation movement is also beginning to lobby for its position in the Knesset. On Tuesday, the Knesset Economic Committee discussed the issue. Micki Gitzin, the head of Israel Hofshit, testified before the committee in support of bus transportation. MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) observed that all would likely benefit. Shabbat buses would significantly reduce private automobile traffic in certain areas and add to the sense of peace on Shabbat.

At present, coalition opposition to Shabbat public transportation is united. On Sunday, the ministerial committee voted on a bill to enable cities to choose Shabbat public transport without Transportation Ministry approval. The Transporation Minister, Israel Katz, says the Transportation Ministry will refuse requests for additional Shabbat bus lines (buses exist in Haifa and Eilat). The bill failed by a unanimous vote.

Previous post on this topic:  Haifa, Eilat have Buses on Shabbat: Is Tel Aviv Next?

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