Right-wing pans Merav Michaeli for plan to inaugurate Haifa bus route on Shabbat

Labor chief already under fire for seeking to run TA light rail on day of rest; Likud’s Karhi says transportation minister has joined ranks of ‘greatest oppressors of Israel’

Illustrative: A Metronit bus in Haifa (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Nirvadel)
Illustrative: A Metronit bus in Haifa (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Nirvadel)

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli faced backlash from right-wing lawmakers on Thursday over her plan to hold a press conference at the opening of a new rapid transit bus line in Haifa during Shabbat.

Michaeli told media outlets she would arrive at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa at 11 a.m. on Saturday to officially inaugurate the new 5a Metronit line, which begins running on Friday. The Labor party chair will depart on the bus at 11:15 a.m., and ride to the BIG shopping center.

The new route travels from the hospital to Yagur Junction, connecting the city with the nearby town of Nesher. Some Metronit lines run on Shabbat, a rarity for public transport in Israel.

In response to Michaeli’s decision, former deputy religious services minister Matan Kahana tweeted: “I wonder if Merav Michaeli is a future partner in regulating religion and state relations through broad agreements, or whether her only concern is upsetting those who don’t think like her?”

Likud party MK Shlomo Karhi said Michaeli was claiming a “front-row spot among the greatest oppressors of Israel since time immemorial,” and went so far as to claim her “soul is black” for violating the Sabbath.

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, September 18, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Responding to Karhi’s harsh comments, Michaeli called out the Likud lawmaker’s silence on the state-funded car of his faction’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

“When his party leader drives every Shabbat with a car funded by the state — Karhi is silent. But when I inaugurate a new Metronit that brings Israeli citizens out of the siege [they experience] on Shabbat — he goes crazy.”

Fellow Labor MK Gilad Kariv also came to Michaeli’s defense, labeling Karhi’s remarks “slanderous.” Kariv wondered if the next stage would include a ‘Pulsa Dinura’ ritual — a mystical death curse extremist Orthodox Jews have in the past deployed against politicians they deemed enemies.

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.

In Israel, buses and trains do not generally run in Jewish-majority cities between Friday evening and Saturday evening.

The new Allenby underground station of the light rail Red Line in Tel Aviv, June 23, 2022. Some of the mass transit system runs underground. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

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.

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

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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