TEL AVIV (Apr. 16)
Israel’s national airline, has been forced to cancel a $10 million charter flight deal with an American tour operator because of protests by Orthodox groups in Israel and the U.S. that the scheduled Friday night departures violated the Sabbath. Transport Minister Haim Landau, who refused to ratify the agreement, said he was not surrendering to pressure from religious circles but simply taking cognizance of economic realities.
About half of El Al’s passengers from the U.S. East Coast are Orthodox Jews who prefer the Israeli carrier because it serves only kosher meals. (Harold Jacobs, chairman of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, issued a statement in New York in which he declared “Your (El Al) total disregard of Halacho and world Orthodox opinions is a disgrace and if you will proceed with this action the American Jewish community will do what is necessary to prevent the desecration of the Sabbath by on Israeli organization.” Jacobs, In his statement to the El Al management, did not specify what actions his group would take.)
The El Al management here expressed surprise at Landau’s ruling. They explained that the charter agreement with Travel Tours was aimed at its non-Jewish market which El Al has been striving to expand. El Al in fact has always operated on Saturdays and Jewish holidays — except Yom Kippur — for the benefit of Christian pilgrims and others. These flights are not widely publicized and no Jew is forced to take them. “We have no intention of giving publicity to these (charter) flights in Jewish communities, but why should we lose such an important Christian market?” on El Al official asked today.