Elections committee bars Labor from running free ‘Shabbat bus’

Party says it’ll keep pushing for public transportation on day of rest, after committee agrees with Shas complaint that providing bus without charge is a campaign gift

The Labor Party's 'Shabbat Bus.' (Screen capture: YouTube)
The Labor Party's 'Shabbat Bus.' (Screen capture: YouTube)

The Central Elections Committee on Friday barred the Labor Party from operating a free bus as part of a campaign calling for public transportation on Shabbat, ruling it constituted a gift to voters.

Public transportation is unavailable in most of Israel from sundown Friday to nightfall on Saturday, when observant Jews refrain from work and operating machinery.

Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, who heads the elections committee, issued an injunction preventing Labor from providing transportation without charge until further notice ahead of elections on April 9, saying it amounted to campaign activity. He gave Labor and party leader Avi Gabbay until Monday to file a response.

The ruling came in response to a petition filed by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which opposes public transportation on the Sabbath, alleging the free bus was a prohibited campaign gift.

“Mr. Gabbay, please think again about the holiness of Shabbat and respecting the tradition you grew up with in your father’s home. Don’t turn Shabbat into a cheap campaign tool,” Shas leader and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri wrote on Twitter following the ruling.

Avi Gabbay, leader of the Labor Party, at the 16th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hitting back at Deri, Gabbay vowed to push for public transportation on Shabbat and said it would be one of Labor’s main campaign planks.

“We won’t allow Shas to determine there is no public transportation on Shabbat. On April 10, we will also change this,” he said in a statement.

Labor had written on its Facebook page Friday morning that the “Shabbat bus” would first operate in Rishon Lezion and then in other cities across the country on future weekends.

Shas’s petition to stop Labor from operating the bus comes after it recently criticized Israel Resilience leader Benny Gantz for calling for public transportation on Shabbat, saying in a play on the party’s slogan “Israel before everything” that it would put “Judaism before everything.”

Lawmakers from Shas have also protested against last week’s launch of a public bus line in the northern city of Tiberias.

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