Rabbis threaten El Al over Saturday flights

El Al leased five flights to Arkia and Israir on Saturday, after the carrier's unit Sun D'Or had its license revoked.

Just two weeks after the license of El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. (TASE: ELAL) charter subsidiary Sun D'Or International Airlines Ltd. had its license revoked, the first Saturday flight by El Al departed from Ben Gurion Airport under a new code. Four Sun D'Or flights, for which the tickets were sold before it lost its license, took off with an Israir Airlines and Tourism Ltd. code, and a fifth flight took off under an Arkia Airlines Ltd. code.

On Friday, Sun D'Or announced that it would operate by leasing its planes to Israeli charter airlines. The announcement means that the flights used El Al planes and crews, but were officially registered as if Arkia or Israir flights.

"This is a very logical solution, even if it is a kind of Israel-bluff," a top aviation source told "Globes" today. "The issue that annoyed the European authorities - a non-existent airline - has been solved, but we're not yet talking about a permanent and stable solution."

Haredi (ultra-orthodox) rabbis and religious El Al passengers are, however, displeased by the solution. Rabbis on the Committee for the Sabbath who met with El Al VP David Maimon last week now claim that El Al had promised them not to set up a new company to replace Sun D'Or, or to hook up with another airline that desecrates the Sabbath. Both Arkia and Israir fly on Saturdays.

"There can be no pretence of innocence here. We take everything in proportion. We have no intention of turning El Al into a haredi company. We know what its situation was until now, we know the situation in the hangars, and the situation in the offices. We aren’t deceiving ourselves," Committee for the Sabbath secretary Rabbi Yitzhak Goldknopf told "Globes" today.

"The duty imposed on us five years ago is to insist on the arrangement under which El Al does not fly passengers on the Sabbath, and on this issue we are prepared to go all the way, just as we have done until now."

"Globes": Does this mean that we can expect a haredi boycott of El Al?

Goldknopf: "We aren’t boycotting anyone. As far as we're concerned, El Al is boycotting us, because it knows that if it flies on the Sabbath, we won't fly with it on any day of the week."

The Committee for the Sabbath plans to hold a special meeting this week to discuss El Al's new arrangement and to plan countermeasures. "We'll do whatever we have to so that the company won't lease its planes. That's the next stage of the campaign. The plus side as far as we're concerned, the achievement, is that El Al itself does not now fly on the Sabbath. That's off the agenda. We'll do what it takes to ensure that El Al won't take to the skies on the Sabbath," concluded Goldknopf.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 3, 2011

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011

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