After waiting and uncertainty, it appears that at least some Israelis will get super-cheap air fares to Israel to vote in national elections May 17, courtesy of subsidies from U.S. supporters of Israel’s right. Chai L’Yisrael, a Brooklyn-based group operating from the Borough Park Democratic Party offices of Assemblyman Dov Hikind, has begun calling thousands of people to tell them their $180 round-trip tickets are in the mail.
As late as last week, even people who responded weeks ago to Chai L’Yisrael’s offer of cheap election flights had yet to hear anything clear from the group about departure times. Some were increasingly annoyed and worried about their inability to make plans to go home and vote in an election that may, like the last one in 1996, be razor-close. Under Israeli election law, there is no absentee ballot option.
But this week, several would-be voters told The Jewish Week they had received calls from Chai L’Yisrael telling them to come to the Tower Air Terminal at JFK Airport Sunday afternoon for their election flights.
"We have chartered 10 jumbo jets" with Tower, said a Chai L’Yisrael volunteer who declined to give her name. Tower said Wednesday that it has arranged five such jets. According to Zev Siegel, the volunteer group’s office manager, the flights will be able to carry about 450 passengers each.
Still, no one contacted by The Jewish Week had yet received a ticket in the mail, as Chai L’Yisrael promised they would. Siegel said the tickets were being sent out as quickly as possible, adding, "People may still receive them as late as Saturday."
Chai L’Yisrael and Kesher, a counterpart operation supported by U.S. backers of Israel’s left, are both offering cheap, subsidized tickets on a purportedly nonpartisan basis. But their pitches are clearly geared to Israeli citizens here most likely to support the candidates the funders of each operation back. One woman called by Chai L’Yisrael, for example, was told she should be prepared for a flight on which many of her fellow passengers will be Orthodox or and ultra-Orthodox.