Religious passengers who were aboard an El Al flight from New York to Israel last Thursday night are suing the company, seeking NIS 50,000 in damages for each of the 180 haredi passengers, as well as reimbursement for the cost of the flight.

Beyond monetary compensation, the passengers want El Al to publicly retract its claims that some of the haredi passengers were violent towards the flight crew.

Video: Yehuda Shlezinger

Flight 002, otherwise known as the “Shabbat flight” from New York to Tel Aviv departed after a delay of several hours amid an unexpected snow storm. The delay sparked concern among the religious passengers that the flight could arrive in Israel after the start of Shabbat, during which Jewish law prohibits flying, among other things.

After promises were made by the captain that the flight would arrive in Israel in time, the flight was eventually diverted to Athens, Greece, where the 180 haredi passengers were allowed to disembark so as not to desecrate the holy day. The other passengers were offered a connecting flight to Tel Aviv.

After the plane landed in Athens, a media storm erupted. One of the female passengers claimed the religious passengers behaved in a violent manner towards the flight crew. After Shabbat ended, Israel Hayom’s religious affairs reporter Yehuda Shlezinger, who happened to be on the flight himself, gave a different version of events: “There was no violence from the passengers; if there was violence, it was on the part of the flight crew.”

Now, as stated, attorneys Amit Hadad and Tamar Pollack have filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the passengers.

According to the lawsuit, El Al reserved hotel rooms for just 53 of the 180 passengers who disembarked in Athens.

“A large portion of the passengers who landed in Athens were forced to sleep on the floor. In addition, they were not provided strictly kosher food, as per their order,” the lawsuit said.

Meanwhile, El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin announced the establishment of an investigative committee to review the events surrounding the flight. The passengers have questioned El Al’s decisions both to take off despite the concerns and to make an unexpected landing in Athens. They claim that the pilot had willfully misled them.

In a letter to staff members, Usishkin said that the complex decision-making process “took place in a dynamic and developing reality that was not entirely under the company’s control.”

Usishkin said the airline “prides itself on being a melting pot of Israeli society” and that he regrets the incident has led to “polarizing discourse and the exchange of accusations.”