Most Israelis support Shabbat buses, including Likud voters, ‘traditional’ Jews

As Tel Aviv launches groundbreaking program, poll finds that 71% of public in favor of weekend public transportation, but 97% of ultra-Orthodox opposed

A public bus operated on Shabbat drives through Tel Aviv, November 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
A public bus operated on Shabbat drives through Tel Aviv, November 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Two weeks after the Tel Aviv municipality introduced  public transportation on Shabbat for the first time, a survey released Monday found that the Israeli public largely supports the move.

Among Jewish Israelis, 71 percent are in favor of transportation on weekends, including 94% of secular Israelis, said the Hiddush advocacy group, which carried out the poll.

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%.

Ninety-seven percent of ultra-Orthodox Jews oppose weekend transportation programs, as do 73% of “religious” Jews, the survey said.

Among Blue and White voters, 95% support it, for Yisrael Beytenu, 96%, and Likud, 68%.

The survey was conducted at the end of November and queried 600 Jewish Israelis from across the religious spectrum.

The study follows the Tel Aviv municipality’s groundbreaking public transportation initiative, which was launched in the city and surrounding communities on November 22.

The program, dubbed “We move on weekends,” has so far proved overwhelmingly popular, with buses overflowing in its first weekend, and the city ramping up the number and size of buses to keep up with demand.

Some 10,000 people made use of the service in each of its first two weekends.

Religious Jews protest against the Tel Aviv municipality Shabbat bus service outside the home of Mayor Ron Huldai in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In Israel, buses and trains do not generally run in Jewish-majority cities on Friday night and Saturday before sundown. The practice 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.

Public transportation on Shabbat is strongly opposed by the Orthodox establishment, while secular Israelis have long chafed at their restricted mobility during the weekend.

On Friday, ultra-Orthodox protesters in the religious community of Bnei Brak, outside of Tel Aviv, blocked major roads in Bnei Brak to protest the Shabbat bus program.

The Tel Aviv program services several surrounding communities including Ramat Hasharon, Givatayim and Kiryat Ono. The routes, which cover some 300 kilometers (186 miles) in total and include 500 bus stops, do not enter primarily Orthodox neighborhoods.

Other Israeli cities recently announced their intention to begin providing public transportation on Saturdays, including Tel Aviv suburbs Ramat Gan and Ganei Tikva.

Earlier this year, a free Saturday bus line was launched in the northern town of Tiberias.

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