El Al airplane
El Al airplane Photo: Moshe Shai / Flash90

Orthodox Jewish passengers on this weekend’s now infamous El Al ‘Shabbat Flight’ are suing Israel’s national airline for nearly $2.5 million, along with a demand that the airline publicly admit that claims of passenger violence were false.

According to a report by Israel Hayom on Tuesday, some 180 passengers from the El Al flight have joined a lawsuit, demanding a refund for their tickets and 50,000 shekels ($13,515) each in damages.

Passengers have also demanded that El Al release a public statement admitting that there was no violence on the part of passengers during the flight, contrary to claims which went viral on social media over the weekend.

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.

But 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.

“There was no attempt to break into the cockpit, there were no physical altercations. Yes, there were some raised voices, but most of the time (I have the videos showing that) it was secular Israeli passengers who came to yell at the passengers who were concerned about Shabbos that we were ruining their weekend,” passenger Benjamin Chafetz told Arutz Sheva.

Former MK and Arutz Sheva chairman Yaakov Katz also dismissed the claims of passenger violence as “lies”, and accused the flight crew of deceiving passengers.

"The captain lied the entire way and said untrue things. He said that we were soon leaving, that we would land before Shabbat, he said that he was returning to the gate but instead of returning to the gate he went and took off,” Katz told Arutz Sheva.

Israel Hayom writer Yehuda Shlezinger also denied claims that haredi passengers had attacked the flight crew, and chastised El Al’s handling of the incident.

“I was on the flight which has been dubbed the ‘Shabbat Flight’. After Shabbat, I saw what had been written [about the flight] in the news about haredim who [allegedly] ‘threatened to break into the cockpit’ and ‘beat flight attendants’ and I got exasperated,” said Shlezinger.

“Tons of poison and fake news.”

“There was a journalist on the flight, and what I filmed there was completely different than the mess which went viral. What did I see? I saw passengers who were lied to, and who remained silent. I saw passengers who were stuck on a plane and who started singing. I saw flight attendants who decided to punish the passengers and to refuse to provide service, and even one violent flight attendant who snatched my camera out of my hands.”

“Was there violence on the part of the haredi [passengers]? If it did happen, I’d love to see footage of it.”

“Here are the facts: The flight attendants go to the plane several hours late, and after we were seated, the lies began. ‘We’re about to leave’, ‘We’re thawing out the ice then going.’ It was only after the pilot reassured us that ‘We’ll get [to Israel] an hour before Shabbat’ that people relaxed.”

“But then, two hours before the landing, they announced a new plan: The religious passengers will be dropped off in Athens, and the secular passengers will continue on to Israel. At this point, everyone was upset, haredim and seculars alike. It was a bald-faced lie.”

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