ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Haredi extremists rip ad with woman's face off Jerusalem bus

Ramat Gan to launch Shabbat shuttle service along Tel Aviv light route

Mayor’s announcement will likely please residents of his largely secular suburb; comes two months ahead of municipal elections, when he’ll aim to win a second term

An undated photo of a bus running in Tel Aviv on the Sabbath. (Tel Aviv Municipality)
An undated photo of a bus running in Tel Aviv on the Sabbath. (Tel Aviv Municipality)

The mayor of Ramat Gan announced Sunday that his municipality will begin operating a weekend line of shuttles along much of the route of the Tel Aviv light rail during Shabbat when the new train system does not run.

Carmel Shama-Hacohen’s announcement will likely please residents of his largely secular Tel Aviv suburb but also comes roughly two months ahead of municipal elections, when the mayor will aim to win a second term in office.

Hacohen said in a statement that the new route will be called the Red Line — the same name given to the inaugural line of the Tel Aviv light rail, which was unveiled last week after decades of planning, construction and delays. The free shuttle system will run from Ramat Gan to Jaffa, stopping short of Petah Tikva, Bnei Brak and Bat Yam, which have a more religious population.

The Red Line of shuttle buses will join two other lines of shuttle buses that already exist for Ramat Gan residents that allow them to reach Tel Aviv on Shabbat. Shama-Hacohen said 8,000 of his residents used a shuttle service last week, and said the Red Line would begin operating once the municipality finishes putting up signs at the various stations.

A growing number of largely secular towns have launched such services in recent years, while successive governments have refrained from operating public transportation on Shabbat in observance of a long-held status quo arrangement, which frowns upon most operation of state services during the Jewish Sabbath. A majority of Israelis are believed to support public transportation services for those who would like them, but successive governments have long included Orthodox elements that have blocked any major upending of the Shabbat status quo.

Last year, then-transportation minister Merav Michaeli announced a decision to operate the Tel Aviv light rail on Shabbat, but her coalition had already collapsed at that point and her successor, Miri Regev, reversed the move upon entering office as part of a hardline government made up of largely Orthodox parties.

Carmel Shama-Hacohen, mayor of Ramat Gan, attends a convention for newly elected mayors and local council heads, in Ashkelon, November 27, 2018. (Flash90)

The new light rail was a welcome development for residents of the Tel Aviv metropolitan era, but it also reignites simmering frustration over the lack of public transportation on Shabbat. Secular residents, who make up the majority in the area, argue that such services should be available to them, without harming the sensitivities of religious Israelis who refrain from their use on the Sabbath.

Hundreds of anti-government activists converged on stations of the new Tel Aviv light rail on Friday to protest the government’s refusal to operate the public transportation system on the Sabbath.

Police subdue a protester at a Tel Aviv light rail station, August 18, 2023. (Yael Gadot)

While Friday’s protest focused on the specific issue of the light rail’s operating schedule, it was attended by activists who oppose the government more broadly, particularly its judicial overhaul, and represent a long-dormant liberal Israeli public that has become increasingly frustrated with the monopoly that Orthodox groups have on the country’s Jewish identity.

Separately on Sunday, a group of ultra-Orthodox residents near the Mea Shearim neighborhood vandalized an Egged public transportation bus that had an ad that included a woman’s face on it. The suspects tore the ad down, spray-painted “No more abomination photos” on the bus, and punctured its tires. Police opened an investigation into the incident but did not announce any arrests. Egged said it was the second such incident in as many weeks.

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