How the Free Market Overcomes Religious Coercion in Israel
State-religion relations are a tough issue in Israel. Israelis come from very different religious backgrounds; from totally secular atheists to hardline ultra-orthodox and everything in between; and that’s only the Jews. This creates a lot of tension about the 70 year old compromise called “The Status Quo”. But in recent weeks, without any political action, something happened.
“There is no public transportation on the Sabbath, the Jewish holy day of Saturday, in 95% percent of Israel” says Roy Schwartz Tichon, founder of “Noa Tanua” (Hebrew for Galilei’s “Yet it moves”). “That’s though 72% of the Israeli population supports public transportation on Saturday, polls says. But even if only one person wanted a ride and one wanted to offer it. How can the rest cohere their believes on a voluntary exchange?”
“Noa Tanua comes to solve that” Roy says. “We are a nonprofit cooperative with no salaries. This means public transportation laws don’t apply to us. We have two lines in Tel Aviv and Beer Sheva metropolitan which offers transportation to anyone who needs it with a sustainable business model. We are more than 30 volunteers and about 2,000 cooperative members”.
Noa Tanua wants to move even more. “We want to expand as much as possible with a reasonable and stable business model. The regulation is very hard – Only 18 years old can join to the cooperative, they can’t pay “membership” by cash so we are using an app to charge people”. This is only part of the problem, as public transportation during weekdays is subsidized, making it very difficult to acquire buses for the Sabbath-lines. “We needed help for the initial costs of buses in the meantime before they are fully loaded and returning the costs, as well as advertisement” he adds.
And so Noa Tanua started crowdfunding, reaching out to people in need of their services, to open another line later this year, bidding for 50,000 USD. The reaction was amazing: Within a single month, almost 100,000 USD were raised, allowing them to operate yet another line (chose by the public on the internet) as well as free transportation for conscripted soldiers.
But can Noa Tanua make a real, sustaining change, shifting the more hated than even “Status Quo”? Roy thinks it will: “No political situation is sustainable while 80% of the public disagrees. Each line that we operate normalizes public transportation on Saturday, and legitimizing it in the eye of the public”.
In my personal view, it’s amazing how the best privatizations aren’t initiated by politicians, but rather by the market itself. When demand is big enough, even under the fiercest regulations, someone will avoid or break the law to meet it with supply. The political system will have to react, or rather they’ll see public transportation gets privatized whether they want it or not. I’m happy with either way, and that’s what makes Noa Tanua great.
Idan Eretz is the co-head of the Tel-Aviv University SFL student group, studying Economics and History, and one of the founders of the Israeli “Liberty For All” organization. He likes to write about history, politics, economy and philosophy.
Intro header picture: Creative Commons by Mikhail Kryshen
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