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Ignoring objections, minister inaugurates new bus route in Haifa during Shabbat

‘The time has come to fight for our truth,’ Labor party leader Michaeli says as she rides line in northern city

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli at the launch of a new Shabbat bus route in Haifa, October 8, 2022 (Merav Michaeli Twitter account)
Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli at the launch of a new Shabbat bus route in Haifa, October 8, 2022 (Merav Michaeli Twitter account)

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli participated in the launch of a new rapid transit bus line in the northern city of Haifa on Saturday, following right-wing and religious criticism for taking part in the official inauguration during Shabbat.

Before riding on the new route, Michaeli spoke with a small group of protesters, who held a Kiddush ceremony there.

As they briefly argued, one demonstrator told the minister her actions were like “an arrow to the eyes” of religious Israelis.

Michaeli noted in response that Haifa has long had some public transport on Shabbat, unlike most majority-Jewish communities where buses and trains do not operate from Friday evening to after sundown Saturday.

“Now there are other options,” she later tweeted.

She also called for expanding public transportation throughout the country on the Jewish Sabbath, which she has increasingly advocated for ahead of the November 1 elections.

“The time has come to fight for our truth,” she said. “You all deserve freedom of movement, you all deserve to get to wherever you want, when and how you choose.”

According to the Walla news site, invitations for the event were sent out by Michaeli’s Labor party and not the Transportation Ministry, underscoring the sensitivity around official events on Shabbat.

Her decision to attend the event drew backlash Thursday from several religious lawmakers.

Michaeli has recently come under fire for her push to advance public transportation on Shabbat. Last week, she announced plans to run the soon-to-open light rail system in the Tel Aviv area and its surroundings on Shabbat, starting next year.

The lack of public transport on Shabbat was born of an agreement reached between the ultra-Orthodox community and Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, before the formation of the state.

Haifa, however, has a mixed Jewish and Arab population, and public transport has run in the city since before the establishment of the state.

A Metronit bus in Haifa. (Wikimedia Commons/Nirvadel)

In 2019, the Tel Aviv municipality launched an initiative that provides some public transportation over Shabbat, offering bus services to residents of the city and surrounding areas on several lines.

A poll by the Hiddush advocacy group conducted in the wake of the Tel Aviv initiative found that, among Jewish Israelis, 71 percent were in favor of transportation on weekends, including 94% of secular Israelis.

Other groups that support the measure were traditional Jews who said they were “not so religious,” at 82%, and traditional Jews who were “close to religion,” at 59%.

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