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That ultra-Orthodox flight delay? It didn’t happen

True, the El Al flight took off 70 minutes late, but it wasn't for the reason everyone thinks
An El Al airline plane at Ben Gurion International Airport on August 17, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
An El Al airline plane at Ben Gurion International Airport on August 17, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Writing the following question, I am filled with trepidation and frustration: Does every fact that is publicized need to be checked out personally?

For the past week, I have been unable to fathom how an ultra-Orthodox person dared delay an El Al flight for more than an hour. How did such a thing happen? Who dared to act with such audacity? Which cabin crew members allowed him to behave like that? Of course, I was certain that the facts were correct. After all, they were published everywhere, and people talked about the incident. So the facts simply had to be correct.

Well, no. I received the following email from Katriel Shem-Tov:

“Dear Sivan, I was on that flight from New York, the one that the media reported ‘took off an hour and a quarter late because of the Haredim.’ My wife and I celebrated our silver wedding anniversary and at 6 p.m., we were supposed to take off on our way home. However, before we even boarded, there was an announcement of a 45-minute delay and take-off would be at 6:45 p.m. The same information appeared on the screen in the departure lounge. Of course, the delay had nothing to do with any of the passengers.

“Boarding took a long time, ’till at least 7:10, I believe. My guess is that the whole business with the Haredim didn’t take more than five minutes. Of course, I am not justifying their behavior and one should not cause a delay of even one minute. I am Haredi myself, but I have never seen such behavior like theirs.

“Then I heard you in the media expressing your outrage and I heard many other people who were so angry about the entire incident. Since I was actually a passenger on the flight, I cannot understand how everyone got so caught up in the story. It all sounds so unbelievable, how come no one actually checked the facts? It causes harm to Israel’s good name in the international arena, so why are we all in such a tizzy? It took me a few days to decide whether to contact you, but I feel it is important that the truth come out. There are many other passengers who can corroborate the story, if necessary.”

I contacted El Al straight away, and they responded with the following, surprising, statement:

“The details that were reported about the incident were not accurate, to put it mildly. In actual fact, the delay was totally unconnected to the incident. The plane’s journey to the runway at the airport in New York took about one hour and had nothing to do with the incident. Taking care of the two passengers who refused to sit in their allocated places occurred after the plane had already left the gate and only took a few moments. We will continue to do our best to transport our customers safely, comfortably, and according to schedule.”

I certainly do not intend this post to defend those two passengers. I do want to ensure that it will defend 8 million people from a heated public debate which has no basis in fact.

About the Author
Sivan Rahav Meir is an Israeli television and print journalist, author and radio and TV host.
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