The chairman of the newly privatized El Al Israel Airlines, Izzy Borovich, is up in the air on whether El Al will fly on the Sabbath.
“The issue of Shabbat, besides being a religious issue, is an economic one,” he told The Jewish Week. “We’re studying the issue.”
He said those needing Friday-night flights are North Americans in Israel on business who wish to fly home from Tel Aviv. Asked about a possible boycott of the airline by observant Jews if El Al should opt to fly on the Sabbath, Borovich, whose grandfather was a rabbi, pointed out that observant Jews fly on other airlines that currently fly on the Sabbath. He said 40 airlines now fly the New York-Tel Aviv route (only El Al and Continental fly nonstop) and that if Israel had a strong aviation industry it would help the Israeli economy. “A good economy is good for religious Jews too,” he said. “So we need to compromise whereby we can all live together and make Israel a better country. … We have to minimize the problem of Saturday. The most important thing is to respect each other.”
Knafaim-Arkia Holdings, which is controlled by Borovich and his brother David, assumed control of El Al on Jan. 9 when it bought 42 percent of the airline. The company’s option to buy another 10 percent expires in June 2007. The Israeli government owns 31 percent of the company. Borovich said he bought the airline for $160 million and that it is now valued at about $400 million.
“We tripled our money in seven months,” he said in an interview at El Al’s Manhattan office. Borovich, 63, said he and his brother are now seeking to win approval of Israel’s Antitrust Authority to keep Arkia Airlines, which they also control, so that they can merge it with El Al. The authority had previously ordered them to sell their interest in Arkia, but Borovich said the bids they received for the airline “were not realistic.”
“We’d like to keep it because it is not competition with El Al,” he said, explaining that Arkia has domestic routes in Israel and a charter operation.