After the storm
Hebrew Media Review

After the storm

May showers pound Israel, a mayor accepts a plea bargain, and El Al pilots stage a wildcat strike

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Jerusalem, May 7 (photo credit: Yishai Fleisher)
Jerusalem, May 7 (photo credit: Yishai Fleisher)

With Israel reeling from the freak storms that swept the country Thursday, the Hebrew papers on Friday dedicate much of their coverage to the damage incurred by the torrential downpour.

The press also grapples with the dreary political forecast, as yet another politician embroiled in a corruption scandal caves and accepts a plea bargain. Finally, El Al is flooded with complaints after a number of its pilots fail to show up to work in protest of their labor conditions, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded in Israel and abroad.

Yedioth Ahronoth leads with the turbulent weather, calling it “the heaviest rainfall in the month of May in the past 100 years.”

The paper reports that one of the unfortunate repercussions of the rainfall is that the sewage system is presently flowing into the ocean.

“The winter, which popped in for a short and impressive visit, brought with it some infuriating effects, one of the most troubling of which is the spilling of sewage in the sea. The swimming season opened just last week, and already a number of beaches will be closed.”

Yedioth explains that there is no formal separation between the water system that absorbs the rainfall, and the national sewage system, such that when massive amounts of rain hit unexpectedly, and the system cannot withstand it, Israel’s sewage is inevitably dumped in the Mediterranean, polluting its waters.

Israel Hayom reports that the downpour and scattered hailstorms damaged fruit crops. The paper quotes Dudi Ginsburg, the head of KANAT: The Insurance Fund for Natural Risks in Agriculture, who estimates that the damage wrought by the storm will amount to millions of shekels.

The papers also detail the plea bargain that the mayor of Bat Yam, Shlomo Lahiani, 48, secured with the state prosecution on Thursday to avoid corruption charges.

Shlomo Lahiani at  the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on May 8, 2014. (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/FLASH90)
Shlomo Lahiani at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on May 8, 2014. (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/FLASH90)

Lahiani pled guilty to three charges of breach and trust in exchange for striking the bribery and corruption allegations, Haaretz reports.

The Bat Yam mayor may face up to a year in prison, and sentencing will take place on June 11.

Haaretz writes that as a result of the plea bargain, which carry a conviction designated to involve “moral turpitude,” Lahiani, “who saw himself as a realistic candidate for prime minister, will be distanced from public service for seven years.”

“All my life I was a symbol and a model of my surroundings,” Lahiani said. “It’s important that I continue to be so. Therefore, I decided to take responsibility for [my] actions from ten years ago, that were mistakenly done at the beginning, in my early years as a public servant.”

Yedioth elaborates further on the political ramifications of the “moral turpitude” designation. The mayor pledged as part of the plea bargain not to oppose a court decision to rule his offenses as having constituted moral turpitude, should it decide to impose such a ruling. Should Lahiani be subject to this decision, new mayoral elections will be held within 60 days.

The abrupt turnaround in Lahiani’s case, from his continual professions of innocence to the plea bargain, can be attributed to the “Holyland effect,” a legal source told the paper, referencing the high-level corruption trial that saw former prime minister Ehud Olmert convicted of bribery in a Jerusalem real estate scandal.

In an op-ed for the paper, Ariela Ringel Hoffman dubs the Lahiani case “Shlomyland.” It’s possible that the recent turn of events in the Holyland trial, during which Judge David Rosen showed the legal system to have zero tolerance for political corruption, affected Lahiani’s decision, she writes. Lahiani’s trial and plea bargain “represents another stage in the struggle to define the permissible and the forbidden in the public sector: what is tolerated and forgiven, and what is not tolerated and unforgivable.”

Israel Hayom dedicates its first pages to the El Al pilots’ wildcat strike, reporting that four flights – to London, Bucharest, Munich, and Budapest – were first delayed, and later canceled without warning, stranding hundreds of travelers in Ben Gurion Airport.

“In the past few days, several pilots stopped answering their phones and were inaccessible,” it writes. “Until now, the carrier managed to work it out by delaying flights and using larger aircraft, but yesterday a large number of pilots didn’t show, and it was not possible to get the flights out as planned.”

Hundreds of El Al passengers stare up at the flight schedule board showing delayed flights at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, May 8, 2014. (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90)
Hundreds of El Al passengers stare up at the flight schedule board showing delayed flights at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, May 8, 2014. (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90)

Passengers outside of Israel were also subject to cancellations of El Al flights, and none has yet received notification of a rescheduled flight or reimbursement. The cancellations will likely continue through Sunday, the paper reports, after which the airline is expected to be slapped with countless lawsuits and complaints.

Nir Tzuk, a representative of the El Al labor union, told the paper that the pilots had been subject to untenable working conditions. He claimed that every day, the airline had 5-10 flights that had no pilots assigned to them, and would ask pilots who had landed that day to cover those routes.

“This is not a strike, but there are not enough pilots,” he said.

Yedioth Ahronoth writes that Thursday’s events were the culmination of an ongoing labor dispute over the past year. The paper reports that thousands of El Al passengers have been affected by the strike, and that the airline is fuming over the pilots’ “illegal actions that damage both the company and its passengers.”

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