update deskIsrael News

To protect ‘purity’ of upcoming Jerusalem vote, regional commission nixes free Shabbat buses

The committee ruled in favor of the United for Jerusalem Party, which had accused the Hitorerut Party of attempting to bribe voters with the service.

The Hitorerut Party's Shabbat shuttle bus. Credit: Hitorerut Party.
The Hitorerut Party's Shabbat shuttle bus. Credit: Hitorerut Party.

The Jerusalem Regional Election Committee, whose chair is appointed by the president of the Israeli Supreme Court, halted an operation of free shuttle buses on Shabbat in the capital city.

Aryeh Romanov, a Jerusalem District Court judge and the committee head, ruled on Thursday in favor of Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Aryeh King’s United for Jerusalem Party, which accused the opposition Hitorerut Party of launching the free buses to bribe voters ahead of next month’s municipal election.

“One of the goals of the election laws is to ensure the voter’s freedom of choice and to maintain the purity of the elections,” he wrote. “Another goal is to ensure equality between the parties in their attempt to reach the voter.”

The judge added that further operation of the free transportation in Jerusalem would clearly harm “the proper course of the elections and the purity of the elections.”

The committee ordered Hitorerut to pay King’s legal fees, which amounted to about $1,950.

Launched six weeks ago, the bus line operated on Friday and Saturday and served residents of Rechavia, Beit HaKerem and French Hill, among other neighborhoods. The shuttles also transported secular Jerusalamites to Tel Aviv beaches.

‘Not cross red lines’

Yosef Speizer, a longtime Hitorerut councilman, said he was quitting the party after the initiative was announced on Aug. 12.

“I cannot support the desecration of Shabbat and the harming of many populations in the city,” he stated. “The movement that I loved took another path, one which unfortunately I cannot continue in.”

Founded in 2008 as a pluralistic movement of both secular and religious Zionists, Hitorerut secured the most seats in the Jerusalem City Council in the previous 2018 municipal elections. Hitorerut was in negotiations with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, but those broke down when it emerged that there strong differences of opinion about the Shabbat status quo in the city.

For the upcoming Oct. 31 election, Hitorerut’s current leader, Adir Schwartz, has teamed up with Benny Gantz’s left-wing National Unity Party.

“The extremists stopped the Shabbat bus but only temporarily,” Hitorerut stated in response to the Sept. 28 ruling. It vowed to “do everything to restart the project after the elections.”

King applauded Romanov’s “decisive statement regarding the illegal shuttles campaign.”

“Between me and the people of Hitorerut, fundamental ideological disputes exist on essential matters,” he said. “We must stand firmly and uncompromisingly on the principles of either party, but not cross red lines and conduct ourselves within the framework of the law.”

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