El Al ‘free ticket’ misstep only insults ultra-Orthodox

Ten days after the controversial flight to Israel, El Al offers free round-trip flight to Europe in compensation to all passengers, but no apology, leaving the ultra-Orthodox feeling insulted.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

El Al’s offer of a free trip to Europe failed to appease passengers on a flight from New York to Tel Aviv 10 days ago that was diverted to Athens in order to let observant Jews off in time to celebrate the Sabbath.

The offer was made to all those on the plane, religious and non-religious alike. The latter boarded a different airline to continue on to Israel last Friday as El Al’s policy is not to fly to and from the Jewish state on the Sabbath.

El Al also released a statement with the ticket offer reiterating that it didn’t blame any of the passengers for the problems with the flight. In earlier statements, El Al suggested that ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, passengers, resorted to violence after reports surfaced that they had pushed and threatened members of the cabin crew.

These reports were described as “fake news” by Israel Hayom writer Yehuda Shlezinger, who was on the flight.

Ticket offer backfires

Religious passengers on the flight weren’t mollified by El Al’s offer, having demanded a public apology from the airline over what they view as a slander of their community.

“In my opinion, this is an insult of the highest order,” one wrote in a WhatsApp group created by the passengers, Israel Hayom reports. “Even the apology is no apology.”

On Sunday, in front of Ben-Gurion Airport, a number of ultra-Orthodox belonging to El-Al’s frequent flyers club cut up their El Al membership cards “to express our pain,” as Rabbi Shalom Ber Sorotzkin, one of the flight’s passengers, said to Israel Hayom.

“We are their most loyal passengers and want their good, but… people want them to say the simple truth – that there was no violence on the flight. Just the opposite, there was restraint,” despite derision that came our way, he said.

Sorotzkin had sent a letter to El Al threatening a haredi boycott if El Al didn’t apologize for the slander by Sunday.

“Until we get an apology, the boycott will stay in place,” he said.

It’s not clear why El Al has not issued an apology. The ultra-Orthodox make up a significant percentage of El Al’s passengers to Israel.

The answer may be found in the last line of El Al’s clarification on Monday, which said, “The El Al management supports and appreciates the flight and ground crews who worked on this flight in an admirable manner.”

Apologizing would be an expression of no-confidence on management’s part, said one senior pilot to the Globes news site. El Al would look like it “operates under threats and extortion,” he said.

Several members of the flight crew have publicly stated that there were physical altercations on board.