El Al to rebuke pilot who compared Israel to Nazi Germany in in-flight message

In message to passengers on Holocaust Remembrance day, Captain Doron Ginzburg warned judicial overhaul plan could lead to a dictatorship and bring about ‘things like the Holocaust’

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)

Israeli national carrier El Al is expected to discipline a pilot over his remarks to passengers on Holocaust Remembrance day comparing the government’s policies to German actions that gave rise to the Holocaust.

According to Hebrew media reports, Doron Ginzburg will be reprimanded and required to issue an additional apology for his statements. Furthermore, he will be temporarily suspended from his role as a lead pilot, but he is expected to continue co-piloting flights, and his salary will not be affected.

After the incident, El Al summoned the pilot to a disciplinary hearing, with his future at the airline unclear. Many of Ginzburg’s colleagues expressed support for him, but some El Al customers and lawmakers called for him to be punished and dismissed from the company.

Ginzburg had compared government efforts to overhaul the judiciary to Nazi Germany on a flight during Holocaust Remembrance Day last month, telling passengers that “things like the Holocaust are potentially carried out in a dictatorship, and we are fighting in Israel to remain a democratic country.”

The remarks, given before takeoff in both Hebrew and English on flight LY7 from Tel Aviv to New York, prompted angry public reactions and condemnation from the national carrier. El Al stated that the message did not reflect its values and promised a thorough investigation.

Before landing, Ginzburg, the son of a Holocaust survivor, addressed the passengers again, seemingly after being informed that El Al intended to investigate 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 insulting 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.

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

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

The official said Regev stated 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.”

The government’s planned judicial overhaul has sparked widespread opposition across Israel, with senior legal, security, and economic figures warning the move will undermine democracy by removing the system of checks and balances and as such will harm the country’s security and economy. Proponents argue they are defending democracy by reining in an activist court.

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