FAA lifts ban on Israel flights after Obama accused of ‘economic boycott’

A Delta Air Lines plane. Credit: Steve Fitzgerald via Wikimedia Commons.
A Delta Air Lines plane. Credit: Steve Fitzgerald via Wikimedia Commons.

By Dmitriy Shapiro/ Jewish Week

Late on Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lifted its ban on flights by American carriers in and out of Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.

The FAA said in a statement that before deciding to end the ban, which was in effect for 36 hours, it “worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had accused the Obama administration of an “economic boycott on Israel” through politically motivating the FAA ban, which came just as Secretary of State Kerry traveled to the Middle East to try to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

“The facts suggest that President [Barack] Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands,” Cruz said in a statement.

Earlier on Wednesday, the FAA had extended its ban for an additional 24 hours, saying that it will continue to monitor the situation.

“The agency is working closely with the Government of Israel to review the significant new information they have provided and determine whether potential risks to U.S. civil aviation are mitigated so the agency can resolve concerns as quickly as possible,” the FAA said.

Cruz implied that the FAA, a regulatory agency, colluded with the Obama administration to ground Israel-bound flights for political purposes.

“Obviously, no one wants to place civilian travelers in harm’s way, and the recent downing of Malaysian Airways flight 17 by pro-Russian militants in Ukraine is a stark reminder of the dangers posed by regional unrest,” Cruz said. “But security concerns in Israel are hardly breaking news, and given the exceptional challenge Israel faces, Ben Gurion has rightly earned the reputation as one of the safest airports in the world due to the aggressive security measures implemented by the Israeli government.”

“Given that some 2,000 rockets have been fired into Israel over the last six weeks, many of them at Tel Aviv, it seems curious to choose yesterday at noon to announce a flight ban, especially as the Obama Administration had to be aware of the punitive nature of this action,” added the senator.

The State Department pushed back against Cruz’s assertions.

“It’s ridiculous and offensive, quite frankly,” said State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf during her daily press briefing. “The FAA takes its responsibility very seriously. I will speak for them in that case. They make these decisions based solely on the security and safety of American citizens. For anyone to suggest otherwise is just ridiculous.”

Abraham Sion, former president of the board of directors of Israel Tourist Industries and chair of the Center for Law and Mass Media at Israel’s Ariel University, begged to differ.

“What the U.S. is trying to do is teach Israel a lesson. [The ban] has nothing to do with safety, but is designed to convince Israel to reach a cease-fire,” said Sion.

Sion went on to say that FAA’s move “was 80-90 percent a political decision.”

“Public safety [was] a minor consideration,” he said.

In an interview by with Israel’s Channel 2, Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz agreed that safety could not have been the main motivation for the FAA’s decision.

“There is no reason for the American companies to stop their flights and give a prize to terror,” Katz said.

Shortly after the FAA on Tuesday issued an initial 24-hour ban on Israel flights, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took an El Al flight to Israel to demonstrate his disapproval of the federal order and show solidarity with the Jewish state.

“Ben Gurion is the best protected airport in the world and El Al flights have been regularly flying in and out of it safely. The flight restrictions are a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

Also see: How to reschedule or get a refund for canceled U.S. flights to Tel Aviv

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