TEL AVIV (Apr. 28)
Sentiment is reportedly growing in the Cabinet to convert El Al from a government-owned air carrier to a private corporation in order to avoid a clash with the Orthodox Aguda Israel party that could bring down Premier Menachem Begin’s narrowly based coalition government.
The Aguda Council of Sages has demanded that Begin deliver immediately on his promise to halt El Al flights on the Sabbath and religious holidays, if he wants continued Aguda support in the Knesset. But a public committee investigating the issue found that El Al, in deep financial trouble for years, would lose an additional $40 million a year if it didn’t fly on the Sabbath. The cost to Israel’s tourist industry could run as high as $100 million, the committee found.
Although Begin personally supports the Aguda demands, a majority of Cabinet ministers could be expected to favor the status quo in face of what Transportation Minister Haim Carfu calls a “stoggering loss.” The Aguda has threatened to order its Orthodox constituents to boycott El Al if it continues Sabbath flights.
Some ministers reportedly feel the only way out of the impasse is to put the airline into private hands.