Despite multiple efforts made by representatives of the haredi community, Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel has decided to cancel a central feature of kosher phone lines, barring them from blocking access to content that the haredi community finds reprehensible. Access for those under the age of 18 will be partially restricted, Ministry sources say, although details are not forthcoming.
Hendel made his decision on Thursday morning and his office issued a statement saying that, "Following the hearing on the recommendations of the professional forum, Minister Hendel has decided to alter the policies with regard to kosher phone lines and their opening to competition."
The statement added that the protocol of the hearing as well as the date from which the new policies will be implemented will be published immediately after Pesach.
Intensive efforts have been made by haredi representatives, including Hassidic leaders, over the past months to persuade Hendel to relent, but Hendel has rebuffed all approaches. Key among those organizations pressuring the government to ban the kosher phone lines from restricting access to certain numbers have been those representing LGBT issues.
Responding to Hendel's decision, UTJ party head MK Moshe Gafni said, "Yoaz Hendel is forcing his opinions on a huge sector that wishes to have kosher phone lines - and this, at a time when his own party has no support and the government itself lacks a majority. Hendel is arrogant and brazen and is acting like a dictator."
Indeed, the government has lost its majority with the defection of MK Idit Silman, and repeated polls have shown Hendel's New Hope party failing to cross the electoral threshold.
"We will do everything we can to correct this injustice," Gafni stressed. "This issue is absolutely central to our lifestyle as believing Jews, and it is particularly ironic that he has made this decision on the eve of the Passover festival, when we recite in the Haggadah how 'in every generation they rise up against us... and G-d saves us from them.'"
MK Meir Porush (UTJ) added, "Hendel's decision is a slap in the face to the haredi public, and it reveals the attitude of this government toward our community."