Israeli airlines to strike from 5 a.m. Sunday
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Israeli airlines to strike from 5 a.m. Sunday

El Al and two other local carriers are bringing some flights forward; dispute over 'Open Skies' deal worsens

Illustrative: People stand in line to go through passport control at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Israel, September 21, 2008. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Illustrative: People stand in line to go through passport control at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Israel, September 21, 2008. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

El Al, Arkia, and Israir — Israel’s three airlines — were set to strike from 5 a.m. Sunday, in protest against the “Open Skies” agreement with the European Union, set to be approved by ministers at Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said he would not be intimidated by the strike threat, and that the vote would go ahead as scheduled.

The airlines were bringing forward some Sunday morning flights to beat the start of the strike action.

The Histadrut trade union federation was said to be considering launching a full nationwide transport strike — bringing all public transportation, ports and airports to a standstill — in solidarity with the three airlines, Channel 2 claimed. It did not specify when such a strike might be launched.

Channel 10 News reported Saturday that an internal Transportation Ministry document, which it claimed was not being brought to the minister’s attention, said El Al might collapse if the “Open Skies” arrangement came into effect.

Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Cabinet to avoid making “historic and destructive” decisions based on a lack of information. In a letter, Eini wrote that “putting the arrangement into effect in its current form could produce critical and irrecoverable harm to the aviation industry and even bring about its complete destruction.”

Dozens of employees from Israel’s three airlines, El Al, Arkia, and Israir, as well as representatives of the national pilots’ association, held demonstrations in front of the homes of Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Katz on Friday morning to protest the agreement, which they say is unfair, ill-conceived and will ruin their businesses.

The “Open Skies” agreement, meant to lower the cost of air travel by reducing barriers for outside airlines to operate in Israel, was signed with the European Union last July after more than three years of negotiations.

Yigal Cohen, the Arkia worker’s union chairman, called the situation a “battle for survival,” which he blamed on the “devastating and irresponsible decision of the transportation minister… which will throw tens of thousands of workers into the street after the Israeli airline companies collapse.”

“We are not opposed to competition, but we are in favor of equal and fair competition,” Avi Edri, the chairman of the transport workers union, told Channel 2 News.

Edri stressed that he does not want to scrap the entire agreement, but rather to make certain modifications that would protect Israeli carriers. “The minister of transportation promised me personally that he ‘will not harm Israeli airlines.’ Where are his promises from before the elections?”

Lapid came out Friday to meet with the demonstrators, even inviting them into his house to discuss the issues. “There will likely be painful compromises,” he addressed to the gathering mass. “But there is no intention to harm the workers.” He said there was nothing more important to him than their jobs.

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