After Israir Airlines and Tourism was purchased in January by a group that includes BGI Investments, controlled by Shalom Haim and supermarket magnate Rami Levy, it was clear that its days operating flights on the Jewish Sabbath were numbered.
Israir is now removing all the flights scheduled to depart on the next few Friday nights and Saturdays from its reservations website, both those to Eilat and to overseas destinations. Israir flights to Eilat will begin again only after Shabbat ends on Saturday night. Before this change, 10 percent of the airlines’ flights were on Shabbat.
Arkia Israeli Airlines will now be the only airline that flies domestically on Shabbat. Arkia will also be the only Israeli airline that will continue operating flights to and from Israel on Shabbat, along with a number of foreign airlines. El Al stopped operating flights on Friday nights and Saturdays in the late 1980s. After it was bought last year by Eli Rozenberg, who is religious, it stopped the operations of its Sun d’Or subsidiary on Shabbat as well. Sun d’Or flies mainly to vacation spots.
The reason for Israir’s change is clear: Levy observes the Sabbath and all four of his children are religious. He does not operate any of his businesses on Shabbat. Those who rent and lease properties from him and his businesses sign contracts that obligate them to not operate their businesses there on Shabbat. “Those who fly on Shabbat have the alternative of not flying with me but with another airline,” Levy told TheMarker in January. “But if I do operate on Shabbat, the religious public can’t fly with us.”
Levy added in the interview: “If the airline stops flying on Shabbat, I will increase flights by 30 percent, from people who don’t fly on Shabbat. We can, for example, build hotels in Cyprus, Greece, Dubai and other places for Israelis who don’t fly on Shabbat and want kosher hotels.
“At the end of the day, we’re based in Israel,” he said. “Most of the population is traditional, and 95 percent of all businesses are closed on Shabbat. For instance, the supermarket chains that do open on Shabbat have limited turnover. I want to serve all Israelis without exception – Arabs, Haredim and the nonreligious.”