Prominent Rabbi Shalom Ber Sorotzkin from Israel's ultra-Orthodox Haredi community has threatened to boycott the country's flag carrier El Al Airlines unless it apologizes for alleging that religious passengers violently attacked crew members over a possible violation of religious laws related to the Jewish Sabbath day.
"If an unambiguous apology is not forthcoming by Sunday evening […] we will be forced to work within the holy [Haredi] community towards a preference for other airlines who do not discriminate between different people, do not belittle that which is beloved and holy to the people of God and [who] appreciate their principles," Sorotzkin wrote in a letter to El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin.
Sorotzkin voiced "dismay" about the fact that a whole week has passed in which "the [Haredi] religious community has been slandered over events that did not occur."
Rabbi Sorotzkin blamed El Al for "exploiting an event" that was allegedly the carrier's fault and diverting attention to create a dispute between religious and non-religious Israelis.
The incident took place during an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv on November 16, when it was delayed by hours due to a bad weather. After the plane finally took off, a number of passengers reportedly grew angry despite the fact that the El Al crew assured they would arrive before sundown Friday when Shabbat begins.
It remains unclear whether religious passengers were violent toward the flight crew, as social media offered differing accounts of the incident.
"The captain blatantly lied to us. In order to get them to sit down the pilot announced that we were returning to the gate and to please sit. He then drove and took off within a few minutes — and of course in your seat you have no idea where the plane is driving towards," Jerusalem-based tour guide Betsalel Steinhart wrote in a blog post on The Times of Israel.
"There were reports of an uproar, shouting, pushing, raised hands. The cockpit crew was called liars by some of the passengers. It was chaos in the cabin, flight attendants were crying," the co-pilot wrote on his Facebook page.
The El Al chief executive has, meanwhile, promised to establish a committee to investigate the incident, saying in a letter to staff members that the complications during the flight "took place in a dynamic and developing reality that was not entirely controlled by the company".