WASHINGTON (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the issue of the Federal Aviation Administration’s indefinite ban on U.S. flights to Israel with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
“The FAA’s notice was issued to protect American citizens and American carriers,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday describing the phone call. “The only consideration in issuing the notice was the safety and security of our citizens.”
It’s not clear what other possible considerations she was alluding to, although at least one conservative publication, the Weekly Standard, had insinuated that an earlier State Department advisory warning against travel to Israel was a means of pressuring Israel into accepting Kerry’s proposed cease-fire in its war with Hamas in Gaza.
Netanyahu has agreed to several cease-fire proposals during the 15-day operation.
The FAA earlier Tuesday issued its order after a rocket fired from Gaza struck and destroyed a home in Yehud, an Israeli town about a mile from Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.
“Due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza, all flight operations to/from Ben Gurion International Airport by U.S. operators are prohibited until further advised,” the FAA notice said.
An Israeli Embassy spokesman told Foreign Policy that Israel understood the FAA decision was “procedural” and that Israeli aviation officials were in contact with the FAA in hopes of having the agency resume flights.
Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, called the restrictions a “mistake” in a statement and flew to Tel Aviv to show solidarity with Israel.
“The flight restrictions are a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately,” Bloomberg said. “I strongly urge the FAA to reverse course and permit U.S. airlines to fly to Israel.”
On Wednesday, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations called on the FAA to rescind the ban.
“While we recognize the need to protect fliers from any danger, we believe this was an excessive measure that will only encourage Hamas to sustain the barrage of rockets and, specifically, to try to target the area of the airport,” Presidents Conference Chairman Robert Sugarman and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said in a statement.
They also commended Bloomberg for his “demonstrative act of solidarity and confidence.”
A day earlier, the Jewish Federations of North America issued talking points to its executives and constituent federations on how to handle making inquiries about the travel advisory and FAA ban.
“We have no doubt that the State Department and the FAA have the best interests of Americans at heart,” was one talking point. Others were “We are confident in the security measures the Government of Israel has in place” and “If the Government of Israel believed it was necessary to suspend flights in and out of Ben Gurion Airport it would do so.”