Transportation and Road Safety Minister and Labor party chairwoman Merav Michaeli has in a controversial move instructed the chair of Tel Aviv mass transport company NTA, Maya Liquornik to undertake an analysis of the operational and budgetary implications of enabling the operation of the red line of the Tel Aviv metro on Saturdays, the Jewish Shabbat.
According to Minister Michaeli, not operating the line on the weekend significantly disadvantages those members of the public who do not own a private vehicle.
Furthermore, the enormous investment, amounting to tens of billions of NIS, made by the ministry through NTA for transport infrastructure that will form the backbone of mass transit in the Dan region for the next two decades, justify its full use, seven days a week, for the benefit of the public.
In addition, the Transportation Minister claimed that operating the light rail on Saturdays would benefit the economy as a whole, bring about a reduction in the cost of living in the Dan region, strengthen the economy, reduce pollution and the use of private cars, and switch to electric, cleaner means of transportation.
Since Minister Michaeli took office, she has been working to allow public transportation to run on Shabbat. Until now, coalition constraints and commitments between Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett prevented this. The minister has now directed NTA to examine the possibilities and present a plan that will enable the light rail to operate on Saturdays as soon as the line is opened in November.
Minister Michaeli said: "The citizens of Israel deserve to see an end to the situation of no public transportation over the weekend. I have always believed that the freedom of movement of the citizens of Israel should not be restricted by day, by hour, or by the means of transport - private vehicle or public bus. Today, more and more Israelis need public transportation during the weekend, want it and many, of those who will not use it support it being available to those who will. It is our duty to make it happen. To reduce the gap between those who own a private car and those who don't, to help take vehicles off the road and make the change that the State of Israel in 2022 so desperately needs. I call on the Prime Minister not to miss the historic window of opportunity that has opened up for us and to join me in changing the face of public transportation in Israel."
Michaeli's move was widely condemned by religious and right-wing politicians.
The Shas movement condemned Michaeli's intention to operate the line on Shabbat. "The Minister of Transportation is trying to cover up the disgraceful failure of her tenure in all areas, through a cynical election campaign at the expense of the precious Shabbat and the Jewish character of the country. What a disgrace."
Otzma Yehudit chairman MK Itamar Ben-Gvir said: "I suggest to Merav Michaeli that she start dealing with Israel's difficult transportation problems on weekdays, before she looks to make provocations on Shabbat. Instead of worrying about the problem of traffic jams and accidents, Minister Michaeli is looking for easy headlines, first by engaging in temper tantrums on the train, and now by desecrating Shabbat and harming the Jewish identity of the country. Maybe it's better if she just sticks to what she's good at, Tiktok."
Likud MK Dr. Shlomo Karhi called on the attorney general to block Michaeli's move,
"I call on you to immediately stop the brutal, illegal, corrupt and anti-Jewish step of Minister Merav Michaeli. This woman has no public mandate to trample the foundations of the Jewish state and the sanctity of the Shabbat," Dr. Karhi said,
"The time has come ... with all due respect, to wake up from the slumber of the "dream government", and function as someone who is supposed to maintain the purity of the elections, fairness and the rule of law in the state of the Jewish people," Karhi told the attorney general.