Panel’s Report on Closing Jerusalem Street Criticized

Israeli secular groups have criticized the recommendations of a special committee that was created to examine the contentious issue of Sabbath traffic.

The committee said Monday that Jerusalem’s Bar Ilan Street should be completely closed to Sabbath traffic in two years, when alternative routes would be opened for secular traffic.

In the meantime, it added, the street should be closed to traffic during prayer times on the Sabbath and holidays.

The committee, which was formed by an order of the High Court of Justice after a series of often-violent demonstrations erupted in August over the closure issue, submitted its findings Monday to Transport Minister Yitzhak Levy of the National Religious Party.

Bar Ilan Street, a main thoroughfare that cuts through fervently Orthodox neighborhoods, has come to embody the struggle between religious and secular Israelis in the capital.

The report dealt not only with Bar Ilan Street, but with the broader issue of relations between religious and non-religious Jews.

Committee chairman Zvi Tsameret said there was a continuing flight of secular Israelis from the capital.

Citing demographic trends, Tsameret said Jerusalem could become “a religious, strictly Orthodox city, where the majority of the population are anti-Zionist Jews and Arabs.”

The report proposed a number of steps to counter this, including an end to subsidized housing that is largely purchased by fervently Orthodox families, and expanding Jerusalem’s municipal borders to include the bedroom community of Mevasseret Zion.

Levy said a compromise had been reached between religious and secular interests.

But Ornan Yekutieli, a Jerusalem council member from the left-wing Meretz Party, said the report did not address the demand of secular interests for public transportation on the Sabbath.

Yekutieli said Meretz would consider going to the high court to appeal the report’s recommendations, which he said the government was certain to adopt.

Haifa Chief Rabbi Sha’ar Yishuv Cohen said he and three other religious members of the committee had rejected proposals for public transport on the Sabbath as a compromise with secular interests.

According to Jewish religious law, “Shabbat is Shabbat. It cannot be desecrated,” he said.

Levy is scheduled to bring the committee’s report before the High Court of Justice, whose injunction to keep Bar Ilan Street open to Sabbath traffic has been in effect for several months.

Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert said the recommendations of the report were inconclusive.

“We are right back where we were three months ago,” he said.

NEXT STORY