A video showing a man dressed as an employee of Israel Railways preventing an ultra-Orthodox couple from boarding the train caused a stir Thursday, until it was revealed to be an elaborate PR stunt by the Bnei Brak municipality, sparking a backlash.
The stunt was apparently intended to protest a new mass transportation system being built in the Tel Aviv metro area that the Bnei Brak municipality claims will bypass the predominantly ultra-Orthodox suburb of some 200,000.
In the video, filmed at a Bat Yam train station, a man wearing an official yellow vest is seen blowing a whistle and shouting ”Haredim cannot get on the train.”
The man then places himself between an ultra-Orthodox couple and the train to prevent them from boarding and shouts at multiple people not to film him.
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Several people expressed outrage over the video, including UTJ MK Eliyahu Hasid, who reportedly called for an urgent Knesset discussion on the matter.
Transportation Minister Miri Regev said on Twitter that she was ”shocked to see the shocking and awful video from the Israel Railways.”
Israel Railways responded to the video with an official statement that the man in the yellow vest is ”not employed by Israel Railways or any of the companies that provide it services” and that the man ”was removed from the platform immediately.” It said it filed a police complaint and was mulling legal action.
Hebrew media reports identified the city of Bnei Brak as the body that had hired the man to be filmed keeping ultra-Orthodox people off the train, apparently part of a guerrilla marketing campaign to underline the city’s frustration at not being included in the planned Tel Aviv metro system.
A PR firm put out a statement saying that it had put on the stunt in order to demonstrate what it described as an “insane’ decision by planners to drop two planned stations in Bnei Brak.
Upon learning that the video was staged, Regev called the behavior of the Bnei Brak municipality “scandalous” and stated that its conduct constitutes an “ugly and cynical violation of the dignity of the ultra-Orthodox public.” Regev also added that the misleading video “tarnished and discredited railway workers.”
The Tel Aviv metro is a planned regional subway system meant to complement the existing nationwide commuter train and area-wide light rail being built.
The system, meant to reach Tel Aviv’s outer suburbs, will initially comprise of three lines covering nearly 150 kilometers (93 miles), including one line that is planned to traverse Bnei Brak.
Last month, Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein penned a letter to Transportation Minister Miri Regev in which he demanded she ”correct the terrible injustice that is being done to the people of our city under the current metro plans — otherwise, we will be forced to act in all the avenues available to us, publicly and legally, to stop the disengagement from Bnei Brak.”
The NTA, the government-run company responsible for the metro system, said the allegations that the metro plan bypasses the ultra-Orthodox city “puzzling.” The NTA stated that the metro has three stops in Bnei Brak, along with a light rail that is projected to run through the city, according to Israel Hayom.