Rift Grows Between El Al, Jewish Agency Over Olim Flight Charges

Disputes lead Jewish Agency to end its exclusive agreement with El Al, and sign a deal with Arkia.

The recent rift between the Jewish Agency and El Al was caused partly by the national airline's decision to stop accepting the agency's flight vouchers for new immigrants and start charging new arrivals instead, Haaretz has learned.

Last month, a family of five new immigrants from a former Soviet Union country was asked to pay $500 per ticket to El Al.

This case and others effectively terminated an arrangement between the Jewish Agency and El Al, in which the national carrier accepted the agency's flight vouchers, for which it was paid at the end of every year.

As reported by Haaretz, this and other disputes led the Jewish Agency to end its exclusive agreement with El Al, and sign a deal with Arkia. The agency is also negotiating a deal with Israir.

Arkia will bring new immigrants from Paris, Munich, Kiev and Tiblisi. The countries from which Israir would bring immigrants are not yet determined.

Another source of the fallout between the Jewish Agency and El Al - which used to be the agency's exclusive carrier - was the airline's intention to introduce a 5-percent hike in fares owed to it by the Jewish Agency.

Jewish Agency sources told Haaretz that non-Israeli airlines will also be contracted where Israeli ones - El Al excluded - are unavailable. This includes the U.S., where Delta and Continental Airlines could fill the void, according to Jewish Agency sources.

Some 3,000 new immigrants arrive from France every year, and a similar number from North America and Western Europe. Immigration from Russian-speaking countries is roughly double that figure.

"El Al continues to cooperate with the Jewish Agency as per the agency's request, as is customary in the commercial engagement between the two parties," El Al's spokesperson said. "Currently, there are disagreements about the contract's framework, which El Al hopes will be agreed upon soon."

The Jewish Agency's chief financial officer, Yaron Neudorfer, said that because the agency's activity was funded by donors, "we are committed to maximum responsibility and efficiency when using these funds. The guiding principle is that no immigrant should suffer because of unilateral steps."