El Al CEO admits: Haredim didn't riot on 'Shabbat Flight'

El Al CEO speaks with senior rabbi who was on board the "Shabbat Flight", tells him "there was no physical violence."

Tags: Shabbat El Al
Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Gonen Ushishkin
Gonen Ushishkin
Sivan Faraj

El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin spoke on Tuesday evening with a leading rabbi who was on board the airline’s infamous “Shabbat Flight” last Thursday.

According to Israel Hayom, Usishkin told the rabbi, "I never said that the haredim on the flight attacked anyone. There was no physical violence."

He reportedly claimed that "from his point of view, if there were violent incidents, it would have been worse than desecrating Shabbat."

Usishkin had reportedly expressed his position in a letter he distributed on Monday, but the rabbi told him that the letter did not clearly explain his position and stressed to Usishkin, "These things must be expressed in an unequivocal manner."

Last Thursday, hundreds of passengers waited at New York City’s JFK airport for El Al Flight LY002, a direct service flight from New York to Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport.

The flight had been scheduled to depart at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, but was delayed after several crew members were late in arriving at the airport – reportedly due to snow storms.

The plane was ultimately boarded, according to a witness, at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, and by 9:10 the plane’s doors were closed.

As the hours passed, however, passengers became anxious, asking staff members when the flight would depart, and if it would arrive before the start of the Jewish Sabbath in Israel.

El Al claimed that a number of haredi passengers became violent at this point and attempting to force their way off the plane.

When the plane finally departed, more than five hours after the scheduled departure time, the pilot assured passengers the flight would arrive in Israel before the Sabbath.

During the flight, however, the captain informed passengers that the plane would be stopping in Athens to drop off any passengers who wished to ensure that they did not violate the Sabbath, while secular passengers would continue on to Israel, arriving after the beginning of the Jewish holy day.

Initial reports after the plane landed claimed that religious passengers had “rioted” on the flight after it became clear the plane would not arrive in Israel before the beginning of the Sabbath. News of the alleged violence by religious passengers went viral on social media outlets.

Passengers denied the claims, saying that at no time did any of the roughly 180 religious passengers on board the flight ever use violence or attack the flight crew, and pushed back against allegations haredi passengers had attempted to break into the cockpit.

According to the report in Israel Hayom, the talks between Usishkin and the senior rabbi revealed that the CEO is aware of the fact that no unusual incident took place in the cockpit area, and that the pilot was aware that if the plane had landed before sunset on Friday at 4:40 p.m., which had turned out to be possible, it would not have been considered a violation of the Sabbath, and the haredim would have been able to spend the Sabbath in the lounge area at the Ben Gurion Airport while the secular passengers would do as they pleased. The decision to divert to Athens, which was made by airline management, turned out to be the wrong decision.