Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi; Sraya Diamant / Flash90
Transport Minister Merav Michaeli (R) and MK Simcha Rotman.

MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism) tweeted on Monday: “If Merav Michaeli allows anyone who wants to, to operate buses or public transport for a fee, I will fully support it.”

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MK Rothman was responding to Transport Minister Merav Michaeli’s announcement on Monday of an amendment to the transportation regulations, the purpose of which is to allow private entities, local municipalities, and associations to operate paid public transportation services on Shabbat and holidays.

Minister Michaeli’s amendment stipulates that any entity, for-profit or non-profit, can apply to the Transport Ministry and obtain a permit to operate shuttle buses or minibusses for a fee. And since these vehicles would not be defined as “public transportation” and would not receive a government subsidy, they would also be able to operate on Shabbat—after receiving the Ministry’s blessing.

As Calcalist put it on Monday, “It is difficult to overstate the significance of the move, which would lead to the opening of the shuttle market to any entity that’s interested in entering and would meet the ministry’s standards.”

Among other things, the move would allow municipalities to charge for public transportation services on Shabbat, which to date is illegal. Moreover, business or social entities would be able to operate paid transportation on Shabbat, even if municipalities are not interested.

Enter MK Simcha Rothman’s tweet, which continued: “When leftists support a policy of privatization and free competition, I am with them. Of course, if she chooses to do this *only* on Shabbat, it would be a step towards the destruction of the State of Israel as a Jewish state and the reflection of a crooked set of values.”

Not to worry, Michaeli’s amendment to the traffic regulations does not mention the matter of Shabbat at all, although ministry officials have told Calcalist that the amendment allows public transportation at any given time.

The Transport Ministry argues that the amendment would help congestion on the roads and increase the rate of use of public transportation in the mix of motorized travel. According to the ministry, road congestion in Israel constitutes significant damage to the Israeli economy, which is reflected in the loss of GNP estimated at NIS 40 billion ($12.65 billion) each year due to loss of working and leisure hours, as well as more road accidents and more air pollution. Left unregulated, the ministry expects the annual GNP loss due to road congestion to reach NIS 70 billion ($22.1 billion) in 2030.

Mk Simcha Rothman told The Jewish Press that his entire purpose in declaring his support for Minister Michaeli’s amendment was based on his right-wing economic world view that prefers private enterprise over government-run or subsidized programs. Indeed, the headline in the Kipa article that drew my attention to the story in the first place (שרת התחבורה מקדמת תחבורה ציבורית פרטית בשבת, שמחה רוטמן תמך) loosely translated as: “The Transport Minister promotes privately run public transportation on Shabbat, Simcha Rothman supported,” was deeply unfair, presenting the Religious Zionist MK as a Shabbat transgressor, God forbid.

However, MK Rothman told us that he trusts the public to read all three lines of his tweet, including the one about the dire need to preserve Jewish values, so for now he’s not planning to sue Kipa for libel. He also noted that once the amendment is submitted to the Knesset’s approval, he and his faction would consult their rabbis regarding the tradeoff between access to private transportation year-round and the price of increasing public transportation in Israel’s cities on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.