After a decision in principle was made around a month ago, it has now become official: On Sunday, Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel announced that he has decided to enable "full mobility" for kosher cell phone users in order to "increase competition in the kosher cellular market."
In practice, what he is doing cancels the kosher phone option as it currently exists, permitting only a limited format going ahead.
The reform, which is due to take effect on July 31, will allow each subscriber to choose to remain with his existing package, although it is unclear whether all the phone numbers currently blocked on kosher phone packages will continue to be blocked, or whether some, or all, will be opened up to customers. The reforms follow intense lobbying by LGBT groups anxious to see hotlines affiliated with LGBT organizations unblocked to kosher phone line subscribers. Such content is considered abhorrent to haredi Jews.
According to the Communications Ministry, the reforms will open the market to competition and encourage companies to offer services at competitive prices to the haredi community. In practice, kosher phone line subscribers will be able to keep their phone numbers with their distinctive kosher prefixes and switch the SIM card into a non-kosher phone, which in the past would have voided the deal. It is not clear how the reforms will result in financial savings for haredi customers.
"The role of a government minister is to make decisions, even when there are those who oppose them, and to promote the welfare of all citizens and not just the welfare of a specific sector," Hendel said on Sunday. "These reforms will grant freedom of choice to the haredi public and create additional competition which will lower prices and improve service.
"Until now, the kosher cellular market has constituted a monopoly whose conduct has hurt competition, restricted number mobility, and caused prices to rise. Where there is chaos and consumer injustice, we will fix it. Each person will be able to choose the cellular company, the type of package, and the type of device he wishes to use.
"Anyone who wishes to do so will be able to stay with the cellular company where he currently subscribes to the kosher service, for himself and his children, which includes blocking services and applications on the telephone and blocking Internet access, and will also be able to transfer his phone number to the kosher service at another cellular company. If he wishes, he will also be able to transfer his number from the kosher service to any other program offered by his cellular company, or offered by other cellular companies. In the State of Israel, there should be one law and equal conditions everywhere. It is important to emphasize that no one should be forced to do anything," Hendel said.
"Only the account holder will be able to transfer his number, and no one under the age of 18 will be able to do so," he added.
MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) sharply attacked the decision.
"This decision of the Communications Minister deals a serious blow to a huge community that of its own free choice decided that it wanted to have the kosher phone option as it currently exists," he said. "This is not a professional intervention but rather the act of a dictator imposing his will on a responsible sector of the population, telling them how to behave. We are talking about people who only use filtered, protected cell phone devices, and now this dictatorial Communications Minister is acting as aggressively as he can in order to impose his own values on an entire sector. Anyone who examines the words of the Minister can easily see that they are empty, devoid of content. While he speaks of 'freedom of choice,' what he is actually doing is denying that freedom of choice. This is an unprecedented step.
"Meanwhile, his Ministry is guilty of a long list of failures," Maklev added, "with entire areas without cell phone reception, and the Minister does nothing about it. Instead, he is trying to position himself as a 'hero' on the backs of the haredi public in order to make a cheap populist display of his 'achievements' which are nothing but vain and arrogant boasts. This battle he is waging against the haredi community is fought against our very values. This is what he is doing today; tomorrow, the government will intervene in other vital areas such as education," he warned.
MK Meir Porush (UTJ) noted that, "If the Communications Minister was at all willing to listen to the professionals in his own ministry, he would not have dared to take this damaging step. We have just concluded the Passover festival and we can all recall the words of the Haggadah: In every generation they rise up against us to destroy us, and G-d saves us from their hands."