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With the new Netanyahu government, number mobility reform of kosher lines in Israel will be abandoned

A reform opening up the kosher phone market in Israel allowing to switch operators without changing phone numbers will be abandoned with the new government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mobile phone in Israel
© Ilan Dov

A cellular kosherness reform promoted by the previous government of Israel meant to allow the transfer of kosher phone numbers will be cancelled, the new minister of Communication Shlomo Karai said during a speech on January 2 as he took office in the coalition government led by the right-wing Likud party of Benjamin Netanyahu.

The outgoing Communications minister Yoaz Hendel wanted the telecom reform to allow portability of phone numbers between kosher and non-kosher services and devices.

In Israel, some phone lines, mostly used by Orthodox Jews, are considered kosher as they are certified by the Rabbinical Communications Committee. Orthodox Jews can’t really use the latest technology much but kosher mobile phones have been allowed for a few years now. However, subscribers have restrictions on the device, SIM cards and services available, which are all determined by the committee. Text messages are not allowed, only some apps are accessible, the internet and cameras may not be available, not all phone numbers can be dialed in, etc. About 500,000 subscribers have a kosher phone number in Israel, according to the ministry of Communications.

Moreover, a kosher phone number is recognizable by its prefix. As such, the portability for subscribers aged 18+ between kosher and non kosher lines meant users could have kept their kosher phone number even if they decided to switch to a non-kosher plan or device later on, losing a distinctive sign for Orthodox Jews. Ultra-Orthodox education facilities in Israel may actually accept or refuse children depending on the parents’ phone number prefix for instance, according to Israeli business newspaper Calcalist. Many ultra-Orthodox Israeli citizens actually keep two phones, one kosher and another non-kosher, according to the ministry.

Mr Hendel stated on February 2022 that the Rabbinical Committee, the only organization controlling the kosher line services, has a monopoly which leads to “the ultra-Orthodox public [being] shackled to one single organization that sets prices and violates consumer rights.”

Advocating for a freedom of choice, Mr Hendel had also justified that opening the market competition would reduce costs for consumers.

But the new minister from the Likud party Mr Karai considers that “after delving into the subject, the motivations for this reform were not for the consumers but an attempt to interfere in the usage habits and preferences of private citizens. I intend to sign the cancellation of the Kuma Hachshara reform in the coming days. We will not interfere in the decisions of any user in any sector,” he justified.

Conservative religious authorities were against the reform considering Mr Hendel was trying to force secularism. The change was meant to be implemented last summer but a justice decision paused it until a new hearing for 2023, which postponed the reform up until the new government was formed after the results of the 2022 legislative election held in November.

And Benjamin Netanyahu on December 29 came back as prime minister of Israel with a coalition of right-wing and religiously conservative parties. The coalition has raised concerns as it pledged to bolster Jewish settlement in the West Bank. A United Nations General Assembly vote on December 30 asked the International Court of Justice to provide an opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Strict Orthodox religious policies will also have more weight in the government.

Aryeh Deri, the leader of Shas, an ultra-Orthodox political party, was strongly against the reform and is now vice prime minister, minister of Interior and minister of Health. Cancelling the reform was part of the coalition agreement, which gave little suspense for its future.

However, coalition parties haven’t agreed on what will replace the reform.

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