El Al Scrambles to Minimize Losses from Hareidi Boycott

Israel’s national airline is focusing its marketing energies on the secular market in the face of an unofficial hareidi religious boycott that is costing the company millions daily.

Hana Levi Julian , | updated: 09:40

El Al estimates it is losing at least NIS 1 million per day as a result of the loss of passengers from the hareidi religious public both in Israel and abroad. It may lose more, if the rabbinical leadership abandons talks aimed at resolving the crisis, and calls for an official boycott.

The switch in company loyalties began two weeks ago when El Al chose to allow several flights to depart Friday night after the Jewish Sabbath began.

The decision, made after a 24-hour nationwide strike by the Histadrut National Labor Federation crippled Ben Gurion International Airport along with the rest of the country, caused a firestorm in the hareidi religious sector.

Observant Jews across the spectrum were unofficially instructed by rabbinic leaders to boycott the recently privatized airline in light of its desecration of the Sabbath.

Rabbinic members of the Committee to Preserve the Sanctity of the Sabbath met Wednesday in a continuation of talks with El Al CEO Haim Romano and other top brass in an effort to resolve the standoff.

Rabbinic leaders had instructed its representatives to “do everything possible” to reach an agreement. Romano, for his part, said at the meeting that El Al values its hareidi religious customers, saying the airline would “do everything so that they would continue to fly.”

Despite a statement by both sides after the meeting that the talks were held in a “very positive atmosphere,” little else was accomplished.

The airline is continuing to refuse a request by rabbinic leaders to appoint a rabbi to decide in specific circumstances whether the airline should fly on the Sabbath. Under Jewish Law, only a qualified rabbi can determine when it is permitted to desecrate the Sabbath.

Dozens of travel agencies also met this week with religious leaders at a yeshiva in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Moshe to discuss the issue.

Rabbi Yitzchak Goldknopf, one of the participants, maintained that the negotiations with El Al could have been concluded easily. He said the airline simply does not recognize that the Orthodox Jewish public does not want to deal with a Jewish company that does not promise to observe the Sabbath.