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El Al Faces New Boycott for Shabbat Flying

El Al is facing another boycott by religious Jews in Israel after a plane (filled with non-strictly-religious passengers) delayed by mechanical issues in London, landed in Tel Aviv 2 hours after Shabbat started.  El Al had made an agreement with a group of religious people (folk?) in Israel that it would not fly on Shabbat.  You can read the article to see the technical reasons why El Al isn’t technically responsible (the plane was being flown by a subsidiary).  As I mentioned the first time the issue came up, what other airline are these people going to fly?  It’s fine to boycott, but what other option do they have?  Good luck, El Al!

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  1. Boycott threats over cases like these, where El Al isn’t *flagrantly* violating the Sabbath, may do more harm than good. But I assume that the basic principle here is that Haredim don’t want Israeli Jews working on the Sabbath. El Al is the national carrier, privatized or not, and many? most? all? of the pilots and crew are Jewish. When the national airline flies on the Sabbath, it’s a very public desecration of the day.

    As part of an agreement with the Haredim, El Al is not supposed to fly on the Sabbath except under extreme circumstances, and this instance doesn’t seem so extreme – they had time to book rooms for all the Sabbath observers, so they could have booked rooms for everyone, or booked everyone who wanted to fly on the Sabbath the rest of the way on a different airline.

    Now, is that imposing religious standards on people who don’t care – or aren’t even Jewish – and inconveniencing them? Sort of. But no more than airlines which only fly certain routes on Tuesdays. Miss your connection, and you’re stuck waiting or getting routed to your destination on a different airline. Why would El Al agree to this restricted flight schedule? Because, overall, it’s good for business. There are a lot of Haredim in Israel, and they vote with their pocketbooks. (This is not really that unusual – religious muslims don’t drink alcohol, so hotels in many Arab countries are dry, even if that means non-Muslim visitors are inconvenienced.)

    SHOULD the Haredim use their market power to enforce their religious standards on businesses that also serve non-religious Israelis and non-Jews? That’s a theological/political question best discussed on a non-airline website. But the thing is, the Haredim absolutely have alternatives: they can simply fly on non-Jewish airlines. Obviously, they will only choose flights that will not put them in danger of personally violating the Sabbath. But if the (presumably non-Jewish) crew of Continental or Lufthansa flies on Saturday, that’s really not a problem for the Haredim.

  2. Hey Avi,

    Your points are well taken. But I go back to my original point: What good would it do to boycott El Al — an airline that has made nearly every effort to accomodate the Haredim, even at the expense of profits, to spend money on an airline that has made zero effort.

    In a fixed cost intensive business like an airline, not fully utilizing your assets is suicide — yet El Al chooses to ground its planes for 1 day a week. How would patronizing British Airways help anyone?

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