Rabbi Sholom Ber Sorotzkin, a prominent ultra-Orthodox leader who was aboard the ill-fated El Al flight 002 from New York to Tel Aviv earlier this month, has declared a boycott against the airline until an apology for the actions of the flight crew and the company is forthcoming.
Sorotzkin has been in direct contact with El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin regarding the events on the flight, and has demanded an apology for misleading religious passengers by telling them their flight would arrive in Israel before Shabbat began and for accusing specifically haredi passengers of being violent.
Speaking at Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday evening, Sorotzkin said that he and 180 people, who had agreed to tear up their El Al frequent flier cards, would be boycotting the airline until it apologizes for what transpired on the flight.
Sorotzkin heads the Ateret Shlomo network of more than 40 institutions of religious education, which has some 6,000 students and is close with the head of the Ashkenazi, non-hassidic haredi world, Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, and other senior ultra-Orthodox rabbinic leaders.
He has considerable influence and the announcement of his boycott could lead to a broader boycott of El Al by the haredi community.
“One hundred and eighty people have said that until this apology comes, and until they abide by the holiness of Shabbat, unfortunately we will be forced to halt our traveling with the El Al Airline,” said Sorotzkin at Ben-Gurion Airport.
“This is not a message of demonstration or protest, but a message of love and unity... We came to express our pain over the divisions that have been made and the disputes that have been caused, it seems, by people to whom we are the most loyal, and travel with all the time,” said the rabbi. “Despite all the disparagement and the inaccurate things that were said to us, we have simply requested one thing. Tell the truth. That there wasn’t any violence.”
Flight 002 from New York to Tel Aviv on November 15 was severely delayed, and although religious passengers requested to get off the plane before it took off so as to avoid flying during Shabbat, the plane took off anyway with the captain promising to arrive in Israel before Shabbat would begin.
Several non-religious passengers, and subsequently the airline itself, accused religious passengers of being physically violent toward flight attendants during tense confrontations on the plane, although numerous passengers said subsequently that there had been no violence whatsoever.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post
, however, Roni Meital who was on the flight and whose Facebook post about violence by religious passengers was widely cited in the media, insisted that she had indeed witnessed and had been subject herself to violent behavior.
Meital said that she had seen one of the religious passengers shove one of the flight attendants, and that another passenger has threatened to break into the cockpit of the plane.
She said she stood in front of the flight attendants to shield them angry religious passengers, confronting them, and said that all the flight attendants were crying because of the threats against them.
Meital added that she herself was shoved as passengers tried to get past her.
Since posting her comments on Facebook, Meital has been subjected to significant abuse on the social network, and was accused of “brazenly lying” and being “a stupid and ugly girl,” while another individual said that “Hitler would have been proud of you.”
“I am the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, there is nothing that outrages me more than this [kind of comment],” said Meital. “I wrote my post so that people would open their eyes, not out of incitement, in the hope that it would be possible to prevent violent situations.”
“No one needs to raise their voice, or their hand ever in order to obtain their goal, in this case it was [regarding] Shabbat, but if it had been an incident like the ‘Chocolate family’ I would have written something similar,” she said in reference to another airplane incident in 2015, when Israeli passengers screamed and shouted at a flight attendant on an Israir flight when trying to buy some chocolates.
One of the flight attendants who was aboard the flight also said that the religious passengers had indeed been violent, telling Channel 10 News, “It isn’t possible to refute a team of 12 staff members who say they did experience violence and to say it never happened.”
Another passenger who was aboard the flight, Yehudit Rossler, told the Post
last week that she had not witnessed any physical violence but that tensions on board had been high, and that many passengers had shouted at the flight attendants, with one passenger “shouting in their faces.”
Some video footage from the flight shows passengers raising their voices at the cabin crew and remonstrating vociferously with them, illustrating the heightened tensions on board, but no footage has been published showing violent behavior.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>