According to airline industry sources national airline El Al
will begin to fly on Shabbos and holidays after the
government begins to implement its plan to privatize the
company, which it appears will involve a takeover by
According to reports Arkia recently took control of over 50
percent of El Al stocks and options, at the Tel Aviv
Securities Exchange. Tourist industry figures believe that
when the core control of the company is transferred to Arkia,
El Al will begin to operate on Shabbos and holidays "thereby
allowing it to join international agreements with major world
The owners of Arkia are expected to realize their options in
the first phase by June 5th by purchasing 49 percent of El Al
shares and in the second phase by the beginning of January
2005 by purchasing additional shares that will allow it to
hold core control of the company. If the options are not
exercised by June 5th, they expire and will return to the
government. Arkia Managing Director Izzi Borovich said he
will have little problem raising $50 million to complete the
deal and to merge Arkia into El Al. He tried to ease El Al
administration workers' concerns over layoffs following the
merger, saying he would not replace company management.
Dror Strum, in charge of business antitrust restrictions, has
claimed in the past that the merger of the two Israeli
airlines presents a problem because it would decrease
competitiveness. Arkia will have to receive his approval
before exercising its options, Strum said. "When the time
comes we will have to sit down with the figures involved in
the matter and find a way to solve the problems and how to
limit the united company's cooperation with Yisrair, which is
the only competing company in the airline market in Israel.
Cooperation is liable to lead to a monopoly and agreements on
flight prices, which would be to the customers'
Many El Al workers expressed worries that an Arkia takeover
would lead to the firing of religious employees who refuse to
work on Shabbos and holidays.
In response, MK Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz told a Yated
Ne'eman reporter that when the government decided to
privatize El Al it was clear it would be impossible to
prevent it from flying on Shabbos and holidays. "The state is
gradually losing its Jewish identity and the prominent Jewish
emblem--keeping Shabbos. The day will come when the State of
Israel will become a nation like all of the other peoples,
and the nations of the world, too, will relate to it as a
state that has no Jewish identity."
MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni told Yated Ne'eman, "Gedolei
Yisroel shlita have told the religious public how to
relate to an airline company that is operated by Jews on
Shabbos and holidays, which constitutes a major, public
desecration of Shabbos and encompasses hundreds of workers.
The businessmen who want to purchase El Al will have to make
their financial and business calculations, and assess whether
it is worthwhile for them to lose a substantial segment of
regular religious passengers who have been loyal to the
company . . . In addition to the aim of privatizing
government and public companies, the government has plans to
open the market to competition and to decrease the monopolies
in the market, which are to the consumers' disadvantage. In
the deal in question, the monopoly in the airline industry
would become stronger and it would be bad for the economy and
for consumers. Therefore it comes as a surprise that the
government is promoting this destructive move."
During the first nine months of 2003 El Al suffered $14
million in losses. The company ended the third quarter of
2003 with a profit of $61 million. Valued at $197.5 million,
El Al employs 3,170 workers and has 29 planes.