By Ari Bussel
In my mind, El Al Israeli airline conjures the image of people travelling to a tiny country along the shores of the Mediterranean, a country so small that it does not need more than one airline or one airport.
Israel could have been the gateway to the whole region, becoming a hub and necessitating expansion. Reality of the past six and a half decades has failed such dream. Surrounded by enemies wanting its destruction, and constantly in a state of war since its rebirth in 1948, Israel needed a national airline, knowing it can rely on no one other than itself.
Today, with seven million people who like and are used to fly, Israel has become one of the most profitable routes to many airlines. Many Israelis prefer to spend a weekend overseas, as it is cheaper than staying at home, pilgrims are attracted to the holy sites and tourists flock toward the sun (many of whom now substitute Israel for Arab destinations due to the “Spring” effect of the Arab Spring).
El Al’s fleet, to me, is made of aircraft with the Israeli Flag proudly displayed, announcing to the world “We Exist!” Those two streams of flowing blue and a Mogen David nestled between them are a symbol, the source of immense pride and even greater envy, the focus of such immeasurable hatred and the defiant announcement of existence.
For years, the attitude was “why fly El Al?” Why pay a high premium, sit uncomfortably in what seems the narrowest seats in the industry and receive horrible service? All for the safety and security (and undercover air-marshal in every plane)? Or possibly for the system-protections afforded each and every plane against ground-to-air-missiles? Or for that very special feeling of coming home during the descent to Israel when people burst singing and clapping as the nearing shoreline is seen?
El Al today continues to be the safest airline in the world. Service has improved tremendously, and as a friend of my parents who flies regularly on Business with El Al says, “it is very good.” She would know as she expects European standards. It is still very expensive compared to other airlines, but then what is a higher fare compared with flying the national airline of Israel?
I still remain a skeptic, and the “national airline” has long been privatized. It is a business, and must be run as one, without sympathy or sentimentality, and I have neither. A well-run business should earn the admiration and support of its customer base on merit, not nostalgia.
Now El Al has earned my admiration with a new program launch. Sixty of El Al’s 6,000 staff have undergone through special training to become Israel’s volunteer ambassadors.
When they fly, they usually have a 24-hour layover. In Los Angeles or New York, London or Hong Kong, why not utilize the time to speak to local groups?
They are individuals, after all, reflecting some of Israel’s mosaic of faces. The Israel most people do not know.
“Israel beyond the Conflict,” or “Branding Israel,” is an ongoing attempt to show Israel in a different light. But does a terrorist really care if the phone or computer technology he uses was developed in Israel? Not at all, as long as those Zionist bastards do not have a backdoor the rest of the world does not know about.
Does an Israel-hater really care how many Nobel prizes Jewish people have won, and how many Muslims have won? It is all Zionist propaganda anyway. Look at Obama, Peres and Arafat. Each is a Nobel Laureate, but where is the peace and tranquility to the Palestinian people? The Occupation over Palestinian lands continues, and until Palestine is free of Jewish presence, Nobel prize or not, we must continue the struggle for freedom! says our friend, the anti-Semite hater of Israel and Jews.
How about bone marrow registries in Israel and (none) throughout the Arab world? Why would one care? If a bone marrow match is found or a transplant is necessary, Israel will open its doors to any person in need. Israel treats Hamas and other sworn enemies in her hospitals, no questions asked; no bill presented. Israel does it of the goodness of its heart, as a matter of course, and its enemies are aware and take advantage of it.
And what hater cares if Israel, the Apartheid regime, the Occupation with the Wall and Ghettos, attempts at a “Branding” and “Shifting” exercises? Let them (the Ministry of Zionist Propaganda and Foreign Affairs) waste their money. The world knows better!
They are colonialists-Occupiers-those-Zionists. They are the worst of the worst. They must be eliminated, wiped off the map for good, no remnant must remain, no stone or tree must be allowed to hide a (last remaining) Jew!
Alas, that was exactly the reason for the creation of El Al’s new program, “Flying High and Loving Israel.” Well, not exactly in these words, but a research poll showed that whereas a person would have a certain, positive image of a family in an Italian, British or American home, an Israeli home was altogether a different story.
Israel is often portrayed as a desert, or a military compound, a racist or Apartheid regime, surrounded by a wall, where all young people walk around with guns and shoot at Arabs at will (in their back of course). Another crazy perception, Arab women are constantly raped (or not-either way the Jewish state is at fault). One needs some blood to bake Matzos, kidnap an Arab Child. An organ donor? Not a problem, use young Arab males for that purpose. These insane blood libels are so rampant, and the world’s focus on Israel is so intense and so negative, very few see Israel as it really is:
A tiny, thriving, wonderful modern country, with history and archeology, night clubs and sunny beaches, high rise buildings and amazing freeways, architecture and comfort, art and culture, an amazing selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, a vibrant country that is made up of numerous backgrounds and cultures, skin colors and languages of origin and immigrants, old and new, a country that existed before most of civilization and is certain to continue until we are all no longer on this earth.
In short, Israel is exciting and anything but the image one conjures of the country. The anti-Israel, anti-Semitic portrayal on the front pages of the major newspapers in the world is the opposite – rather than a composite – of reality. Good people who have never visited Israel understand this falsehood, but still struggle with the onslaught of lies. The Jewish people’s only homeland cannot be what its sworn enemies describe.
So how does one learn the truth? As Dennis Prager, celebrated Jewish, nationally syndicated talk-show host, said, they need to hear! First hand accounts are one way. The other way is to experience Israel for oneself. Prager recently took a group of 160 of his listeners to Israel, their first. About half were Jewish, the other not.
But for those who either cannot afford to travel or for whom now is not yet the time for a wonderful vacation in Israel, we must resort to Prager’s first rule: Israel has to come to them.
Prager talked about Israel coming to campuses, gifted and competent speakers on the offensive, touring US campuses, the greatest source of Israel hatred in the United States. Allow me the literary flexibility to extend an excellent idea and increase its bounds from US campuses to points all around the world.
This is exactly what Eliezer Shkedi did after he was appointed CEO of El Al. Shkedi was a major general who headed the Israeli Air Force. Israelis know there is the IDF (Israel Defense Forces, i.e. a reference to the military at large) and the IAF (Israeli Air Force), a military to its own. The IAF has its own systems, the best of the best from each incoming recruitment class and benchmarks and standards higher than anywhere else.
Apparently, and not surprisingly, Shkedi brought these working habits with him to El Al. Now a private, commercial business has stepped in to set an example and have people volunteer, work pro-bono for their country.
Much like Pan Am (the series), El Al now has Ambassadors that fly all around the world and, at any given point of time, are in multiple destinations. Each flight attendant or pilot has a story to tell, and together they weave an ethereal design: “This is my Israel.”
One was an immigrant from Britain who knew not a word of Hebrew when he was drafted, and hoping to have a desk job ended up in the elite paratroopers unit, a simple mix-up in translation. Or a 23-year veteran social psychologist who became a flight attendant once her children grew and left home, and believes people (now passengers, not patients) still “find her,” a “Western Wall” for their needs, tears and stories. Her colleagues, incidentally, were unaware of her PhD and practice of more than two decades. Or a very attractive young flight attendant who told about her husband she met on a flight, and what it really means to live in Israel.
There was also a gay couple, both were present, and the audience (otherwise very liberal and accommodating, the evening after all took place in Los Angeles) was shocked. Liberalism goes only so far and usually stops when it reaches one’s doorsteps. He talked about being gay living in Israel’s capital, and what a gay parade in this holy city is like. [That resulted in uproar, although the audience was too respectful to say anything, as it did in Israel among the religious and ultra-religious who fought against it.]
This is Israel, wonderful, attractive, real men and women who can tell us of their Israel and their experiences and answer question from their points of view. Unabashed, unafraid, proud of what this young modern country is all about.
It was an extraordinary evening as each introduced colleagues who took to the podium to present a story—their story. Even their voices told a story, a melody of octaves and strengths, outward confidence or inward presence. They were dressed in blue El Al uniforms with white to complete the colors of the Israeli flag. I felt my heart floating, so I caught it, forced it down to earth, but like bath bubbles, it escaped again and again with each story, with each new speaker.
Israel an Apartheid regime? A military zone? An Occupier?
These speakers are the best answer to Israel’s maligners and haters because they are, as individuals and a sum total, the real Israel.
When El Al ambassadors come to your neighborhood, make the time to meet them. Listen to their stories, usually told in just a few minutes, and stay to ask questions. You will then discover the real Israel, the true magic Israel is really all about!
“El Al, It is not just an Airline, It is Israel.”