Knesset Finance Committee Makes It Final: El Al Sabbath Flights Are Grounded

The last formal hurdle to the Cabinet’s decision to ban Sabbath flights by El Al was removed today when the Knesset Finance Committee voted 11-10 to halt the flights. The ban goes into effect September 1. El Al planes will be grounded from dusk Friday to dusk Saturday and on other religious holidays.

Premier Menachem Begin agreed to the shutdown under intense pressure from Agudat Israel, a member of his coalition. Representatives of El Al had warned that the shutdown would cause the struggling airline to lose an estimated $40 million annually, a loss that could mean the end of El Al.

As soon as the Committee’s decision was made public, El Al workers shouted abuse at Transport Minister Haim Corfu. Hundreds of El Al employes assembled at Ben Gurion Airport, declaring they continue to campaign against the ban. Workers committees from industries promised solidarity with the El Al workers.

Corfu said after the Finance Committee’s meeting that the airline might not suffer severe financial loss despite the shutdown on the Sabbath and religious holidays. He did not specify how this would be possible. Corfu said the airline workers are opposed to the decision because their income would be reduced since they would no longer work on Saturdays. “If they wish, they can still operate El Al on a profitable basis,” he said, “and it will be one of the better work places also in the future.”

But Labor Alignment Knesset member Gad Yaacobi, chairman of the Knesset Economic Committee, said the decision on the ban was the result of religious coercion. He added that the move to halt Sabbath flights was a bad mistake and that it will be regretted for a long time to come.

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