Incident occurs after Herzog urges avoiding Nazi comparisons

El Al pilot under fire for preflight message tying judicial overhaul to Holocaust

Before takeoff on Holocaust Memorial Day, captain says atrocities take place ‘in a dictatorship, and we’re fighting to remain a democracy’; he later apologizes

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

An El Al plane after takeoff from Ben Gurion Airport. September 7, 2014. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
An El Al plane after takeoff from Ben Gurion Airport. September 7, 2014. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

An El Al pilot caused controversy Tuesday by delivering a preflight message likening the government’s attempt to radically reshape the justice system to the events in Nazi Germany that preceded the Holocaust.

The incident occurred on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, drawing angry public reactions and condemnation from the national carrier, which said the message doesn’t reflect its values and promised a thorough probe.

“Things like the Holocaust are potentially carried out in a dictatorship, and we are fighting in Israel to remain a democratic country,” the captain said in Hebrew and English at the end of boarding for flight LY7 from Tel Aviv to New York.

The pilot, who said he is the son of a Holocaust survivor, later apologized to those on board.

A passenger on the flight told the Ynet news site that he was “shocked that an El Al pilot would allow himself to bring [such matters] to the plane, and in general to compare, even implicitly, the issue of the Holocaust to what has recently been happening in the country.”

Hebrew media outlets quoted an unnamed “senior Transportation Ministry official” saying Transportation Minister Miri Regev was angry at El Al and had a tense phone call with representatives of the airline following the incident.

The official said Regev had said during the call: “Time and time again, the pilots are behaving as if they’re the bosses. This situation can’t go on. Something bad is happening there. The company must act accordingly and respect its status as the national carrier.

“The flight paths may be clear, but it seems like the company’s sense of direction is lost.”

Following the criticism, the airline commented that it “condemns political statements of any kind by any of its staff at work, and certainly on its planes, which can’t serve as a stage for such activity.”

El Al said the “irregular” incident did not reflect the company’s values and would be thoroughly probed.

“El Al is the airline that bears the Israeli flag on the back of its planes, and as such it reflects the entire mosaic of Israeli society.”

Before the plane ended its journey in New York, Ginzburg again addressed the passengers, apparently after being informed that El Al intended to probe him.

“As the son of [a] Buchenwald death camp survivor… I am aware of the importance of Holocaust Remembrance Day,” he said.

“On this day we all unite and stand together with the memory of the Holocaust and the victims.”

“I would like to make it clear that I had no intention of hurting any passenger with what I said. I apologize from the bottom of my heart to those who were hurt by my words,” the pilot said.

On Monday evening, in the ceremony opening Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Isaac Herzog urged Israelis to keep the day “above all dispute” and to avoid any Nazi comparisons.

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