Grapevine April 26, 2020: To the skies

Movers and shakers in Israeli society

An Israeli flag is seen on the first of Israel's El Al Airlines order of 16 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner jets, as it lands at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
An Israeli flag is seen on the first of Israel's El Al Airlines order of 16 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner jets, as it lands at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
LIKE SO many things in the nascent state of Israel, El Al, which this year celebrates its 72nd anniversary, came into being by chance in the national spirit of Israel which in the early years was a prime example of necessity being the mother of invention. 
El Al was founded on November 15, 1948, as a result of having faked it two months earlier when a military plane painted with an El Al Israel National Aviation Company logo was dispatched to Geneva, Switzerland to fetch Chaim Weizmann, who was attending a conference there. Weizmann had been scheduled to fly in an Israel government plane, but due to an embargo that had been imposed on Israel, he was forced to take a so-called commercial flight – namely the converted Israel military transport plane. It was quickly realized after that experience Israel needed its own national commercial aircraft carrier, and that's how El Al was born – almost as a monument to Weizmann who was born on November 27, 1874 and died on November 9, 1952.
El Al's history is closely bound with that of the State of Israel, and until 2005 when it was privatized, it was integral to Israel's major rescue operations, and was targeted by terrorists. Despite service which for several years left something to be desired, and fare prices that were higher than those of most of its rivals, it continued to be the airline of choice for most Israelis and for Jews flying to and from Israel. There used to be a joke that its name was actually an acronym for Every Landing Always Late, but that's not quite true. Take-off was often late, but landings were fairly punctual. Choosing El Al was not just a matter of national pride, but of confidence. El Al's safety record outdid that of many other airlines.
Sixth-generation Israeli Amos Shapira was chief executive officer when El Al was taken over by Izzy and Dedi Borovich, and quit almost immediately afterward. When he had assumed his position three years earlier, El Al was in desperate economic straits and Shapira had succeeded in turning it around and making it a profitable company. It was almost an insult to him that the government wanted to sell it.
Since he left, the company has had a number of chairmen and CEOs. Current chairman is Amikan Cohen and CEO is former pilot Gonen Ussishkin.
Both men say that without a substantial cash injection, El Al will fold, and Israel will be left without a national carrier.
Even as a private company, El Al continued to serve Israel's needs, most recently during the COVID-19 crisis, making numerous flights to destinations where stranded Israelis were waiting to come home. Its cargo planes brought in huge quantities of medical equipment from China and elsewhere.
Although Knafaim Holdings, controlled by the Borovich family, is one of the five main shareholders in El Al, the state is still a major shareholder and certainly owes the company plenty, especially after forcing it to make very painful decisions, such as cutting 1,500 jobs over the past two months, and sending 80% of its remaining work force on unpaid leave.
Despite its financial plight and its depletion of staff, El Al continued to do what it's always done  – which is to bring Israelis and future Israelis home.
Its role in bringing immigrants from Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union to Israel cannot, and should not ever, be overlooked. Many of those immigrants or their offspring subsequently became leaders in politics, the IDF, industry, entertainment and academia.
Without El Al most of these people might not have come to Israel, and Israel would not have attained the achievements which have made Israel the start-up nation .
El Al has also been involved in bringing notorious Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann to justice. When he was brought from Argentina to Israel, it was on an El Al plane.
What is acutely disturbing in El Al's rescue missions of Israelis stranded abroad is that among the passengers, other than post-army back-packers and regular tourists, there were so many Israeli students who were studying in countries abroad.
Certainly, some of the students went to other countries to broaden their horizons, just as foreign students come to Israel's institutes of higher learning to broaden their horizons. But many of the Israeli students who are studying overseas went there because they were rejected by Israeli universities and colleges, and their only hope of qualifying for the professions that they want to pursue is to study abroad. Many have later chosen to stay in the countries in which they studied for first degrees or where they went for post graduate studies. This is evidenced by the number of Israeli doctors working abroad, who have been interviewed in recent weeks on radio and television.
Can Israel really afford to lose such essential human resources?
Perhaps radical reform is needed in the policy for admissions to institutes of higher learning.
ALMOST EVERYONE who has a Filipino caregiver sees that person as some kind of angel. As in almost everything else, there are a few exceptions to the rule, but on the whole, Filipinos are dedicated, reliable, affectionate, quick learners of Hebrew, clean, tidy and often expert in operating and fixing digital devices. They quickly integrate into the families in which they work, and it is not at all unusual for them to refer to a female employer as Ima (Mother) and male employer as Aba (Father).
No wonder that Philippines Ambassador Neal Imperial is proud of them, but never more so than during this coronavirus crisis. Imperial and embassy staff have lauded Filipino workers "for their extraordinary work in the front lines as they look after the needs and ensure the protection of the country's most vulnerable sector – the elderly."
Imperial added that he commends his fellow Filipinos for stepping up at this crucial moment and continuing to provide essential nursing care for their employers despite their own personal uncertainties and worries.
The embassy is concerned about those Filipinos who are themselves vulnerable and embassy staff have been calling them on by phone on a weekly basis to make sure that they are aware of the latest Health Ministry guidelines and of the precautions they need to take to ensure their own safety and to protect themselves against infection.
“It is particularly important that those caring for the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions protect themselves and their employers by wearing face masks and gloves when leaving the house or when there are visitors to their workplace, in addition to restricting unnecessary movements outside the home," said Imperial.
Some Filipinos living in Israel have tested positive for COVID-19, and the embassy is presently assisting four patients who are undergoing treatment. A fifth has made a full recovery.
Filipinos in need of assistance should contact the Embassy through its Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/PHinIsrael or its duty phone, 054-4661188. 
Filipinos who have questions about their contracts or terms of employment may also email the Philippine Overseas Labor Office directly at [email protected]
YISRAEL BEYTENU leader Avigdor Liberman, who was uncharacteristically low-key over the past two or three weeks, is back in harness and says that he doubts that Prime Minister Netanyahu will honor the rotation agreement. He is convinced that Netanyahu has several alternatives up his sleeve. Asked by KAN journalist Yaron Deckel whether he thinks that the Supreme Court should disqualify Netanyahu from holding office, Liberman replied that to do so would be the best present that the court could give to Netanyahu, because to his followers it would prove that the Supreme Court is against their leader, and this would give Netanyahu greater political brinkmanship.
WHEN US President Donald Trump talks about light at the end of the tunnel, he is possibly thinking of the Great Depression of 1929, when America was at its lowest economic ebb. But America recovered, and it will again. The world recovered after the economic devastation of World War II. It's interesting, however, that Trump has chosen May 1 as the date on which to get the ball going for the start of America's economic recovery. May 1 is known as May Day which in countries with Socialist and Communist regimes is regarded as International Workers' Day. Trump is not alone in wanting to get the economy moving again in May. Other world leaders are cautiously doing the same, and Israel is also considering opening up the economy in May.
As it happens, Lag Ba’omer falls in May, and ancient history may repeat itself. Lag Ba’omer celebrates the end of a plague in which 24,000 of the students of Rabbi Akiva died. On Lag Ba’omer, the plague suddenly stopped. 
Tradition tells us that the plague was inflicted on Rabbi Akiva's students as a punishment for not respecting each other.
When we review what happened on the political front over the past year – not only in Israel – perhaps the coronavirus is in a sense a repeat of history, and may hopefully disappear on Lag Ba’omer.