Brussels Airlines denies boycott as minister fumes over sweets retreat
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Brussels Airlines denies boycott as minister fumes over sweets retreat

Yariv Levin says carrier should be banned after taking West Bank halva off plane, but airline says it’s ‘loyal’ to Israeli market, not interested in politics

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative image of a Brussels Airlines  Airbus A319-100 at the Brussels Airport on October 28, 2007. (CC BY-SA Wikimedia commons)
Illustrative image of a Brussels Airlines Airbus A319-100 at the Brussels Airport on October 28, 2007. (CC BY-SA Wikimedia commons)

Brussels Airlines on Wednesday denied reports in Israeli media that the Belgian carrier was boycotting Israeli products made in the West Bank from its flights, as Israel’s tourism minister called to have the carrier banned from the country.

A report in the Hebrew-language Ynet news site earlier on Wednesday claimed Brussels had stopped serving halva sesame snacks made by the Israeli food company Achva to appease pro-Palestinian activists.

The report sparked outrage in Israel, with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin calling for the Belgian airline to be banned from the country.

Achva’s factory is headquartered in the Barkan Industrial Park, in the West Bank, near the city of Ariel.

Airline spokeswoman Kim Daenen said the decision to pull the halva snacks from its flights was not politically motivated.

Daenen told The Times of Israel that while a passenger did object to the “controversial” settlement-made halva served on a vegetarian in-flight meal, the airline pulled the product because it was mistakenly delivered by its Israeli supplier and should have never been included.

“As a company, we are politically mutual. We are not boycotting any products,” she said. “We only removed it because we did not order it.”

Daenen emphasized that the airline was committed to Israel, where it flies 11 flights to and from Tel Aviv weekly.

“We are invested in Israel and it’s not at all in our best interest participate in a boycott,” she said. “Brussels Airlines has been flying to Israel for 13 years, and we are very loyal to this country, its an important market for us.”

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset on July 13, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset on July 13, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

According to Daenen, Brussels Airlines, Belgium’s flagship carrier, is the fastest growing airline servicing Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, and has seen a 40 percent increase in demand for flights to and from Tel Aviv over the last year.

“I think that speaks more of our commitment to Israel than this incident,” she said adding the company served many other Israeli products on board its flights.

Asked if the airline would serve a different West Bank-made product on board its flights, Daenen said the company had no official policy on the issue.

Though the airline issued numerous statements to Israeli media outlets and tweeted an explanation to outraged Israeli passengers, Levin, from the ruling Likud party, said the airline’s move was “unacceptable.”

“Such a company has no place in Israeli skies, and its name should be deleted from the flight boards at Ben-Gurion Airport,” he told Army Radio, adding that the incident had stamped Brussels with a “black flag of shame.”

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