Skip to main content

Israeli press review: Sabbath travel bill put to rest, for now

No buses on Saturday for Israelis, while security services display an apathetic attitude towards sexual offences
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's election campaign banner is seen on a bus in Jerusalem. (AFP)

Sabbath travel bill falls just short

A proposal by the parliamentary opposition to permit firms to operate public transportation on the Jewish Sabbath nearly passed on Wednesday in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, against the wishes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, national religious news site Srugim reports.

The bill was voted down by a slim margin of 57 votes in favour to 59 votes against, a sign that the government’s now razor-thin majority cannot guarantee smooth sailing for its conservative legislative agenda in the coming months.

Yisrael Beiteinu, the party of former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, voted for the proposal, since it now sits on the opposition benches after bolting the coalition last week. Rachel Azaria, a backbencher from the Kulanu faction, broke ranks with the government and voted for the bill as well.

“We will not give up, we will continue to fight for this just law,” said Yesh Atid MP Yael German, initiator of the bill.

“We will pass the law and everyone who is bereft of a vehicle will be able to go to entertainment venues and to nature on the Sabbath.”

Recent polls indicate that a significant of majority of Israeli citizens, including right-wing voters, favour changing the law to allow public transport on the Sabbath.

Since its establishment, Israel has forbidden public transportation on Saturday – with a few exceptions, including bus lines in the mixed city of Haifa – as a concession to influential ultra-Orthodox rabbis, who consider it a violation of Jewish religious precepts.

Court allows eviction of 700 Palestinian Jerusalemites

A Jewish settlement organisation may throw hundreds of Palestinians out of their Jerusalem homes after Israel’s top court agreed that it is legally entitled to make such a move, Haaretz reports.

The case relates to a plot of land in the Silwan neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem, just south of the walls of the Old City, upon which about 70 Palestinian families currently live - about 700 men, women and children in total.

On Wednesday, Israel’s High Court of Justice proclaimed that Ateret Cohanim, a group that has already evicted a number of Palestinian families, may proceed with its plan to push out the rest of the residents, interpreting an old Ottoman law in favour of the settler organisation.

One of the judges, Daphne Barak-Erez, urged the state to reimburse the families for their stolen property.

“Evicting people who have lived on this land for decades – some of them without even knowing that the land belongs to others – creates a human problem. Especially when it’s done without compensation or any other solution,” she said.

Security services accused of sexual offences apathy

Women’s rights activists have said that Israel’s various security services don’t treat complaints related to sex offences allegedly committed by their own employees with sufficient seriousness, Israeli newspaper Maariv reports.

In response to requests by the non-partisan Movement for Freedom of Information, Israeli police and other uniformed agencies, such as firefighters and emergency responders, provided statistics on the number of sex crime complaints that they have received in recent years, and information on how these complaints were handled internally.

Although statistics were submitted by all the relevant agencies, including the security services, whose work is shrouded in secrecy, the women’s rights advocates claim that this material is but a fraction of the information that would be needed if the various agencies seriously intended to combat the phenomenon of sexual harassment in the workplace.

“The reports are incoherent. There is no clear procedure for dealing with the problem. Statistics are not collected, there is no internal review,” said Joint List lawmaker Aida Touma-Suleiman.

“Everyone who knows these organisations and their internal cultures understands that these figures, and the low number of complaints that there were, are insulting to our intelligence.

“If women are not complaining, that is a sign of the system of silencing operating in these organisations, and that is worrying, especially because these are organisations that are responsible for enforcing the law,” she added.

Government wants to forcibly take biometric data

The Israeli government is preparing legislation to authorise it to use force against asylum-seekers in order to extract biometric data from them, and to authorise it to share this information with Israeli law enforcement agencies, Haaretz reports.

A bill being drawn up by Israel’s Interior Ministry would allow it to require asylum-seekers and other citizens of foreign states living in the country to submit biometric information in order to be eligible to receive legal residency permits.

Israel has collected biometric information from foreign citizens for over a decade, in the absence of any explicit legal provision permitting this type of intrusion.

Legislative efforts to formalise the practice of taking it were made in 2004 and 2012, but those bills were not voted into law.

In recent years, the Interior Ministry has begun to compile biometric information from Israeli citizens when they apply for new passports, or to renew old ones.

This move has elicited criticism from rights groups, who note that government computers containing this sensitive information could be hacked by experts with ill will.