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'Kosher electricity' plan and canceled El Al flights on Sabbath renew concerns about implementation of religious law in Israel

Secular population apprehensive about potential growing influence of ultra-Orthodox parties

Illustrative image - Power lines leading to Orot Rabin electric plant (Photo: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The Israeli government on Sunday approved the construction of an energy storage facility that will enable the supply of ‘kosher electricity’ to ultra-Orthodox customers on Saturdays. 

The facility, to be located in the ultra-Orthodox community of Bnei Brak, will reportedly store excess energy produced during weekdays so it can be used on Israel's Sabbath, Saturdays. In addition to providing a solution to ultra-Orthodox customers interested in “kosher electricity,” the pilot project touts the use of energy storage to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by switching to renewable energies. 

One of the problems with renewable energy like solar and wind is consistency. The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. Thus, renewable energy sources like sun and wind require a storage solution. 

The energy storage facility slated for construction in Bnei Brak is a pilot project of the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC), which expects to build and operate the facility over the next three years. After that, the storage facility will reportedly be sold to a private firm to ensure competition in the market. 

"This is a pilot in which initial switching equipment will be established, in order to enable the supply of kosher electricity while meeting the needs of the national electricity system," said IEC CEO Meir Spiegler. "The success of the pilot will enable the market to be opened to competition in the supply of kosher electricity.” 

The government is promoting a plan to build four additional energy storage facilities in northern Israel, with a capacity of hundreds of megawatts. Construction of these facilities is intended meet the growing demand for energy storage in the electricity sector, along with increased demand for “kosher electricity.” 

Critics argue that the project contradicts the 2018 electricity reform that removed electricity production from the IEC and said it will raise prices. The Electricity Authority said they will regulate the mechanisms to prevent any excess cost to consumers from the pilot project. 

Spiegler noted that the public is not paying for the pilot, saying that the IEC "will not invest a shekel unnecessarily, and therefore naturally we will not be required to impose it on the general public.” 

Knesset Member Yaakov Asher, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, said the pilot was proof that environmental and religious interests are able to cooperate and called the project “a blessed decision that symbolizes how we can create efficient cooperation that will contribute to the electricity sector, the environment and Shabbat-observant consumers.” 

Opposition Knesset Member Avigdor Liberman attacked the decision to produce “kosher electricity” as expensive and “not exactly environmentally friendly.” 

"Constructing the storage facilities includes an immense investment of billions of shekels. First, large public spaces will be dedicated to the facilities, in addition to a very complicated statutory approval process, since these facilities are not exactly environment-friendly and could raise opposition. In addition, one of the important elements in the facilities is lithium, which is the most expensive metal in the world," Liberman explained. 

Liberman noted that the middle class will bear most of the burden of creating the facility. He estimated the eventual cost of building the energy storage solution would be NIS 90 billion ($24.8 billion). 

"It is clear to us all who will fund this; it is that same middle class, the same people who serve in the IDF, do reserve duty, work and pay taxes. This is not a fight against the high cost of living, it is creating and worsening the high cost of living," Liberman argued. 

Uri Kediar, CEO of the Israel NGO Hofsheet [Be Free Israel] called the decision “delusional” and said it reflects another example of the “government of religious coercion.” 

Some have argued that push for “kosher electricity” is an attempt by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appease his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners in order to help pass the budget before the end of May. Those partners are said to be upset over the delay in the judicial reforms legislation. 

Israel's Channel 12 news also reported on Sunday that Israel's El Al Airlines will be canceling flights out of London on Saturday evenings due to Sabbath regulations. 

Sabbath runs from sundown on Friday evening until sundown on Saturday evening, according to Jewish law. With the days lengthening during the summer, an evening flight on Saturday would require check-ins during the Sabbath. 

According to Channel 12, the change was instituted by El Al's new owner, Kenny Rozenberg, who is an Orthodox Jew. 

Passengers who already purchased tickets will receive the option of a refund or be allowed to switch to a Friday flight. 

While Rozenberg is the majority owner of the company, the government still exercises some control over the company. 

Critics complain that these incidents are examples of Jewish religious law being imposed on Israeli society. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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