The Israeli flag carrier El Al has dismissed rumours that its pilots had refused to fly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Rome on an official state visit in protest at controversial judicial reform plans by the government that have sparked a wave of dissent and sometimes violent protest.
On Saturday night, more than a quarter of a million Israelis took part in rallies in Jeruselum, Tel Aviv and other cities and towns across Israel over reforms planned by Netanyahu’s coalition of right-wing political parties.
The protest action has spread from the streets to boycotts and unofficial strike action, including a decision by nearly all of Israel’s long-range bomber squadron and other members of the military to refuse to take part in mandatory training.
On Sunday, it was also suggested that pilots at Israel’s beloved flag carrier El Al had also started participating in the wave of direct action against the Netanyahu government.
Local media reported that pilots at the Tel Aviv-based airline had refused to take part in a mission to fly Netanyahu and his wife Sara on a special charter mission for an official visit to Rome, Italy starting on Thursday.
El Al has, however, denied the reports and instead claimed issues crewing the flight was simply because the airline didn’t have enough pilots trained to operate the Boeing 777 widebody aircraft that the government had requested.
A spokesperson for the airline says it has been struggling to crew its Boeing 777 operations for a while after cutting back the fleet during the pandemic. Other flights had also been affected, and it wasn’t just the charter operation to Rome that was under threat due to a lack of trained pilots.
The airline had offered Netanyahu’s office the use of a much smaller, single-aisle Boeing 737 but this solution had been rejected by the government.
Ben Tal Ganancia, chief executive of El Al said on Sunday that she would “not allow any boycotts of any kind, and certainly not against the prime minister of Israel,” according to the Times of Israel.
“It is a great honor for us to fly the prime minister on diplomatic missions. We have always done so and will continue to do so,” Ganancia continued.
The newspaper reported that Israel’s last government mothballed the country’s own version of the US Air Force One, but Netanyahu has revived the plans for the plane, which has been dubbed the ‘Wings of Zion’.
Netanyahu proposed his controversial judicial reforms in January, which would limit the power of the Supreme Court to intervene in laws passed by the Israeli parliament. Critics claim the reforms will damage Israel’s democracy.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.