Furor after El Al fires staffer for Facebook post critical of Icelandic band

Furor after El Al fires staffer for Facebook post critical of Icelandic band

Critics threaten boycott of airline for sacking employee who posted seating info for Eurovision entry Hatari, apparently in revenge for group’s pro-Palestinian gesture

Iceland's Hatari holds up Palestinian flags during Eurovision in Tel Aviv, May 19, 2019. (YouTube screenshot)
Iceland's Hatari holds up Palestinian flags during Eurovision in Tel Aviv, May 19, 2019. (YouTube screenshot)

El Al’s sacking of a staff member for a Facebook post critical of Iceland’s entry to the Eurovision song contest has kindled furor and threats of a boycott on social media.

The techno-metal steampunk act, Hatari, won effusive jeers during the song contest in Israel last month for displaying Palestinian flags when it was shown on TV briefly during the vote-tally stage of the show last month.

After the contest, a post emerged from a closed El Al Facebook group in which a staff member showed how the delegation had been split up, and given seats in the back rows.

“This is how the Icelandic delegation will be treated,” she wrote, suggesting that the seating arrangements were in revenge for the band’s pro-Palestinian gesture.

On seeing the post after arriving back in Iceland, Hatari announced that it was considering filing a formal complaint with El Al over the claim, reported on an Icelandic site, that ground crews intentionally seated band members in undesirable seats.

On Tuesday, Channel 12 TV show host Guy Pines revealed that the staff member had been fired.

Right-wing activist and rapper “The Shadow” immediately posted a video clip of himself setting fire to his El Al frequent flyer card.

Right-wing rapper and activist “The Shadow” filmed himself setting fire to his El Al Israel Airlines frequent flyer card to protest the company’s firing of a staff member who wrote a Facebook post about the poor seating allocated to the Iceland entry to the Eurovision Song Contest. (Channel 12 screenshot)

“That’s what I think of El Al, and every person who is sick of the State of Israel being humiliated should do the same and burn their cards. If you don’t bring that air hostess back to work, we will boycott you. We’ve already brought companies to their knees and we’ll bring you down as well.”

Among other comments posted on El Al’s Facebook page were “Shame on you for firing an air hostess who cares about national pride!” and “Bring back the air hostess immediately!”

Channel 12 News reported Thursday that the unnamed air hostess claimed she was still working for El Al and that she had no idea about the uproar. “I don’t know what happened. I didn’t see, I didn’t hear,” she said.

El Al sources however confirmed that she had been fired and said in a statement that the dismissal was not related to the seating, over which she had no responsibility, but for violating company policy by photographing the seating plan on El Al’s computer and in so doing exposing commercial information and harming the privacy of passengers.

The Icelandic news site mbl.is had reported that the band was assigned the center seats in the plane’s three back rows — allegedly in an unspoken protest by the airline’s Israeli staff.

An Israeli identified by Icelandic media as Daher Dahli claimed on social media he had heard El Al ground staff boasting about the seat assignments, and quoted a staffer saying “This is what they get.”

A photograph of an El Al screen showing the seating plan for the Iceland delegation to the Eurovision Song Contest on its return journey from Tel Aviv to Iceland last month. (Channel 12 screenshot)

The band first made waves in March by promising to use its Eurovision platform to highlight opposition to Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

The move drew a rebuke from Eurovision officials, who noted the contest was careful to avoid politicization.

In the end, Hatari’s performances in the contest went without incident, but the band snuck banners with Palestinian flags on them into the final announcement of the winners after the Saturday night final, and held them up when the camera turned to them.

After the protest gesture, band member Stefansson, sporting a spiked leather face mask, posted a video online showing security trying to confiscate the flags.

The European Broadcast Union said the flag display contradicted its rules and may carry consequences, according to Reuters.

These shows of solidarity did not impress the Palestinian boycott movement, however, which had pushed for bands to cancel their Eurovision appearances and said it “overwhelmingly rejects fig-leaf gestures of solidarity from international artists crossing our peaceful picket line.”

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