What happened on El Al flight 002 as Sabbath approached?

A New York to Tel Aviv Flight Thursday night caused arguments due to possible Shabbat landing in Israel, but was there violence?

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Due to inclement weather, El Al Flight 002 from New York to Tel Aviv took off too late Thursday night to make it to Israel before the Sabbath. That is possibly the only point of agreement between the various passengers, as secular and religious social media and news sites in Israel have reported completely conflicting versions of events that transpired while the plane was in the air.

Religious passengers said that once they realized that the five-hour delay in take-off would probably mean landing after the Sabbath had already begun, they asked to be let off the plane before it left the ground. They were not allowed to do so, they said, with the flight crew dishonestly insisting they would make it in time.

Several hours into the flight, the version continues, the pilot announced that “due to the haredim [ultra-Orthodox]” the plane would land in Athens to allow the Sabbath-observers to disembark. El Al would provide them with accommodations and allow them to reach their destination on Saturday night.

While the observant passengers acknowledged that the indifference of the flight crew to their plight led to arguments and raised voices, some secular passengers claimed there was actual violence. One woman described on her Facebook account that she saw “a flight attendant crying after she was hit, pushed, amid threats they would break open the door to the cockpit.”

Religious flyers flatly denied the allegation, with one writing that he had videos to prove that “it was secular Israeli passengers who came to yell at the passengers who were concerned about Shabbos that we were ruining their weekend.”

Fake news?

Yehuda Shlezinger, a reporter for Israel Hayom, wrote an eyewitness account in which he flatly called “the crazy headlines about ‘bad’ haredim” fake news. He added that passengers were deliberately misled as to their ability to arrive on time and that he filmed flight attendants “who decided to punish the passengers and refuse them service.” One attendant violently grabbed the camera from his hands, he claimed.

“Despite the cancellation of many flights, we succeeded in releasing Flight 002 from New York for our passengers, including an intermediate stop in Athens. El Al arranged onward flights to Israel that day for all passengers. Passengers who preferred to remain in Athens for Shabbat were cared for by company representatives, and El Al will return them to Israel after Shabbat is over,” El Al said in a statement in response to the social media storm about the incident.

As the statement noted, the non-religious passengers also had to disembark in Greece. They waited three hours until being transferred to a different airline in order to get to Israel later Friday night, since El Al does not fly on the Sabbath. This also led to anger on the part of the secular passengers, this time aimed at El Al.