El Al plane
El Al plane Photo by Nir Keidar
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Israel advocacy organizations have enlisted an unexpected group of citizen diplomats in the form of El Al pilots and flight attendants who will give talks about Israel when they are abroad.

The new project, known as Blue and White El Al Ambassadors, was formally launched over the weekend at Yeshiva University in New York. It is being sponsored by the Jewish Agency, the Stand With Us advocacy organization and the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

The project was initiated by El Al CEO Eliezer Shkedi, a former head of the Israel Air Force, who said the national carrier would encourage its flight staff to engage in public diplomacy efforts in three North American cities served by the airline - New York, Los Angeles and Toronto.

The program will include appearances - in the form of formal lectures and more informal meetings - by flight crew members at universities and in the Jewish communities of these cities.

The deputy CEO for services at El Al, Yehudit Grisaro, and Alon Portman, the missions director at the Jewish Agency, who is managing the new program, said hundreds of El Al pilots and flight attendants had offered to participate in the program as volunteers. The program is selecting those most suitable for the activity based on their ability to express themselves and represent what Grisaro and Portman called "the beautiful, positive apolitical face of the State of Israel."

In recent months, the new El Al "ambassadors" have undergone intensive training by staff of the sponsoring organizations.