Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) intends to block all of his ministry's online payment services offered via the gov.il portal on Shabbat and religious holidays.
The portal was set up as part of the "accessible government" project to enable Israeli citizens to access a range of ministry services via the internet, thereby reducing the burden of regional centers and improving citizens' convenience. However, it seems citizens are not completely free to enter the ministry websites when they choose – the Ministry for Internal Affairs intends to block services for the Population and Immigration Authority site on Saturdays.
Government is currently unavailable
Those who want to renew their passports, request a permit to employ a migrant worker, verify an address, renew a weapon license or pay fines will not be able to do so on Shabbat or during religious holidays.
The move will in fact contribute nothing to preventing Shabbat work because these functions require the filling of forms which are anyway not handled immediately by Ministry staff, who work during normal hours during the week.
Not on Shabbat. Israel's "accessible government" site
What about secular internet surfers?
The Ministry told Ynet that the reason for the decision is because no trade is permitted on Shabbat. However, there are many Israelis who do not keep Shabbat and take advantage of Saturday to catch up on paperwork and bureaucracy, including business with the Internal Affairs Ministry.
These people know the website is run automatically, that there is no real person to deal with the forms on the same day. The minister's decision, therefore, may cause resentment among the secular public. The message to secular Israelis, the Ministry said, is "the importance of the Shabbat and Jewish holidays."
Responding to the question of whether the decision goes against government policy of promoting online services, the Ministry said, "the internal affairs minister supports the accessible government policy" – a surprising response, because Yishai's decision prevents secular citizens from enjoying access to government services at a time of their choosing.
Minister Eitan: Time to solve problem
The "accessible government" project was intended to improve government service. Minister of Improvement of Government Services Michael Eitan (Likud) worked hard to promote the site, which is a convenient portal rich in explanations and services.
Eitan told Ynet he would hold a meeting on the issue with Shas ministers and ask them to refrain from unilateral steps.
"I believe that with the help of technology we can find a solution that will balance between the needs of a Jewish state which obliges the regime to keep Shabbat, and the democratic right of citizens to have access to services at a time convenient to them," the minister said.
Payment services of the Internal Affairs Ministry will not be the first government online services to be blocked on Shabbat. The website for payments at the National Insurance Institute has been blocked on Saturdays since 2005. No solution has yet been reached despite many debates on the issue.
Asked about the NII site and the tension between religion and state online, Eitan said, "The time has come to discuss the whole issue, and… to solve the problem."
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