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Tel Aviv light rail to resume post-Shabbat service earlier than planned following public protests

Activists protest the decision to not operate the new Metropolitan Light Rail on Shabbat, at the Light Rail Station in Tel Aviv, August 25, 2023. (Photo: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Tel Aviv’s recently launched Red Line light rail system will reportedly resume its Saturday night, post-Shabbat service one hour earlier than originally planned, following public protests.

The Saturday night rail service was initially scheduled to resume at 9.30 p.m. but will instead begin at 8.30 p.m.

Israel’s commercial hub, Tel Aviv, is overwhelmingly secular and many residents have protested against the government’s decision to nix light rail service during Shabbat, Israel's official 'day of rest' when the majority of businesses close from sundown on Friday until Saturday at sundown.

However, because the light rail line was to pass through the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious coalition members were not likely to accept service during Shabbat.

Public transport during Shabbat has become a political battleground between the largely secular Israeli left and the religious right.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who is a vocal critic of the Netanyahu-led government, said public transportation on weekends is essential in a liberal democracy.

"As someone who supports and promotes transportation on Shabbat, I have been saying for a long time - the light rail must operate and serve the public even on Shabbat," Huldai argued. "That's how it should be in a liberal and democratic country," the mayor added.

Following years of delay, Netanyahu recently inaugurated the Tel Aviv light rail system. Despite a personal invitation from Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Huldai refused to attend the opening, due to his disagreement with the lack of rail service during Shabbat.

In October 2022, shortly before the last election, former Israeli Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli promised the public she would keep the then-upcoming Tel Aviv light rail open during Shabbat.

“It is my decision and I reached it taking into consideration all the important implications [surrounding such as decision] brought before me,” Michaeli told Channel 12 news at the time.

However, Michael’s promise was never realized after Netanyahu resumed office and established a government mainly consisting of conservative right-wing and religious parties.

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

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