El Al faces haredi boycott threat

El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin Photo: Sivan Faraj

A haredi rabbi has demanded an apology from the airline over the New York-Tel Aviv flight ten days ago that disembarked sabbath-observant passengers in Athens.

The story of El Al's flight from New York to Tel Aviv last week that made an unscheduled stop in Athens in order to avoid desecration of the Sabbath refuses to die down. A haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) rabbi has warned El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin that unless he issues an unreserved apology by this evening, the haredi community will boycott the airline.

On Friday a week ago, El Al flight 002, which had taken off late from New York, had to land in Athens in order to avoid flying on the Sabbath. After the passengers were disembarked from the plane, it continued to Tel Aviv with the crew and baggage. Sabbath observant passengers stayed in Athens while the rest continued to Tel Aviv with Israir.

Stories began to circulate about the flight, among other things alleging that haredi passengers had become unruly before take-off from New York when they realized that the flight would not manage to reach Israel before the Sabbath began on the Friday evening. El Al stated that it would respond severely to the alleged violence and that it would encourage crew members to file a complaint with the police. Subsequently, a reporter for the Israel Hayom newspaper who was on the flight claimed that there had been no violent behavior. Last week, the flight crew protested against what they said was the feebleness of El Al's CEO, who had told the haredi community that there was no violence.

Usishkin held a meeting with haredi leaders to head off a boycott, even though El Al has not operated flights on Saturdays for many years because of the fear of such a boycott. Now, Rabbi Shalom Ber Sorotzkin, head of the Ateret Shlomo yeshiva, has issued a sharply-worded letter threatening that unless El Al apologizes to the haredi community he will instruct that community to choose other airlines.

The rabbi states that after the meeting he had with Usishkin, which he described as "friendly", unfortunately "the community of those who observe the Torah and the commandments has been publicly smeared for things that certainly never happened, and furthermore instead of praise and admiration for people who observe the Sabbath who left the flight in a place they did not know and thereby sanctified heaven's name.. you exploited an incident for which you were to blame and attempted to inflame matters and arouse antagonism and conflict between sections of the people of Israel, the treasured people."

The rabbi adds, "After all the negotiations of the past few days, in which the contempt for observers of the Sabbath and of tradition continued unabated, unless by Sunday evening an apology and explicit clarification with no sophistries is issued concerning the abovementioned insult and a correction of statements made about the community as mentioned above, we shall unfortunately be compelled to take steps to persuade the holy community to choose other airlines that at least do not discriminate between one person and another, do not trample underfoot what is precious and holy to God's people, and respect their principles."

El Al has not responded to the letter, but it can be presumed that it will bring to bear all its charm to defuse the ultimatum. The haredi community is accustomed to receiving benefits in the form of discounts, mainly on routes to the US on which a large proportion of passengers are haredim.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 25, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin Photo: Sivan Faraj
El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin Photo: Sivan Faraj
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