El Al Employes Bar Aguda Members from Entering Airport Terminal
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El Al Employes Bar Aguda Members from Entering Airport Terminal

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Several hundred employes of El Al today barred entry to the Ben Gurion Airport terminal building to a few dozen black-garbed members of Agudat Israel.

The demonstrators shouted that if the Aguda did not allow them to work on the Sabbath and allow other Jews and non-Jews wishing to fly on Saturdays to do so, “then we will not allow the Aguda, who are anti-Zionist and who do not serve in the army, to fly on any other day.”

Gaby Saltzman, spokesman for the El Al workers committees, said their protest and ban was not against religious Jews, but only against Agudat Israel members “who can be easily identified by their black kapotas (long coats) and streimel (for hats).” The passengers and their wives and children barred from entry to the terminal building until police forced a way open, but only after many had already missed their flights today, screamed that the El Al workers were behaving “just like the goyim–like Nazis–they are anti-Semites.”

The workers’ spokesman said that they had achieved their aim of drawing public attention to the problem of the Aguda-imposed halt to Sabbath flights by El Al.

Saltzman denied there had been any “selektzia” of passengers into categories, saying it was the Aguda Israel members themselves who were creating a split within the ranks of Jewry. “Selektzia” was the concentration camp term used by the Nazis to divide inmates into groups, for death or life. Some of the Aguda members had described the scene at the airport as a “Nazi-like selektzia.

The El Al workers action sparked off a violent row in the Knesset, where National Religious Party member Israel Melamed declared: “Today we are all kapota wearers.” Haim Druckman called the workers action “open anti-Semitism.” Deputy Foreign Minister Yehuda Ben-Meir tried to get the Knesset to recess for 15 minutes as a sign of protest at the airport incident. The NRP MKs were scheduled to meet later today with Premier Menachem Begin on the issue.

Meanwhile, the Knesset Economic Committee unanimously recommended to the government that it reconsider its decision to halt El Al flights on Saturdays beginning September 1. Both the coalition and opposition members of the committee supported the recommendation. Gad Yaacobi, chairman of the committee, said that if the ban on Saturday flights is not lifted, El Al will gradually cease to exist, with an annual loss of $1.25 billion Shekels.

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