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Religious customers threaten to boycott El Al for ‘Shabbat flight’ accusations, waiting for apology

After allegations surface that religious passengers aboard an El Al flight became violent towards the crew, rabbi gives airline until Sunday to issue a public apology • Group of platinum and top “haredi” customers to cut up membership cards in protest.

An El Al passenger jet at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Aug. 17, 2016. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
An El Al passenger jet at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Aug. 17, 2016. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.

A group of religious El Al customers planned to demonstratively cut up their membership cards at the airline’s Tel Aviv offices on Sunday in protest of what they are calling false accusations of violent behavior toward the crew aboard the now-infamous “Shabbat flight.”

The controversy began when a passenger aboard an El Al flight from New York to Israel posted a Facebook tirade accusing the religious passengers aboard the flight, which was delayed and ultimately diverted to Athens, of behaving violently towards the crew. The religious passengers, who were concerned that they would either be forced to violate the Jewish Shabbat or be stranded on the Shabbat because of the flight delays, uniformly denied the violence allegations and further charged that they were misled by the pilot and the company.

The protesters, members of the airline’s platinum and other exclusive services club, want the company to publicly retract its accusations that haredi passengers acted violently towards the crew upon learning the flight in question would not arrive in Israel before the Shabbat.

Meanwhile, one prominent haredi rabbi threatened on Friday that he would call on his constituents to boycott the airline unless El Al issued an official, public apology to the ultra-Orthodox passengers.

In a letter to El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin, Rabbi Shalom Ber Sorotzkin, who was aboard the flight, wrote Friday: “To my regret, a week has passed since the incident in which the entire [religious] public was slandered for something that absolutely never happened.”

“Furthermore, instead of praising and hailing the observant passengers who voluntarily disembarked into the unknown and sanctified God in front of everyone … you took advantage of an incident that was actually your fault and tried to deflect the issue, generating strife and division among the Israeli public,” the letter said.

Sorotzkin issued an ultimatum, giving the airline until Sunday evening to recant its initial version of events.

“I hereby declare, after all the negotiations of the past several days, during which the disrespect toward the Shabbat-observant public persisted unabated, that if by Sunday evening an apology and explicit clarification isn’t forthcoming … we will regretfully have to act within the [haredi] community and choose other airlines, which at the very least don’t discriminate between people and don’t disparage that which is dear and holy.”

El Al declined to comment on the matter.

Last Monday, attorneys Amit Hadad and Tamar Pollack filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the accused passengers.

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