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This is my latest column for Jewish News…

I travelled to Amsterdam for New Year’s Eve to witness the city’s breathtaking celebrations as the sky is lit up with more fireworks than you can imagine. My trip came just days after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to pull off an even more spectacular explosion on the Detroit-bound plane that had started its journey from Amsterdam’s Schipol airport. Consequently, I arrived early at Schipol for my journey home, expecting tighter security checks in the wake of the Detroit incident.

Surprisingly, the process was as laid back as usual. No wonder I felt a touch twitchy on the flight home. It always surprises me when people complain about heavy security at airports. It seems a reckless stance to take – and sometimes a hypocritical one. In the weeks after the 9/11 attacks people in England rolled their eyes about how “naive” Americans were about airport security, particularly for internal flights. “It’s scarcely tighter than it is for train journeys in England,” they complained. But when America tightened security many of the same people complained that they were being too rigorous.

You won’t catch me moaning about ‘over-zealous’ vigilance when it comes to air travel – the tighter the better, I say. Indeed, the only times I’ve felt truly safe on a flight is when I’ve flown to Israel on good old El Al. The airline’s stringent safety measures on the ground and in the air are legendary. They are enough to reassure the most neurotic of passengers and are stunningly effective. If the whole world flew El Al-style then the would-be terrorists would soon be hanging up their box-cutter knives, shoe bombs and explosive pants.

My first trip on El Al was great fun. I was sitting next to a stunning Jewess. On learning she was Scottish I attempted a bit of break-the-ice humour. “I suppose,” I said with a bashful smile, “that being Scottish you find it even easier to pronounce words like la’chaim”. Dear reader, never in the history of mankind has a joke fallen more flat. Luckily, we soon hit it off as we sat watching the usual El Al passenger behaviour. (Has the airline ever thought of adopting Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up as its anthem?)

My time in Israel was wonderful, it really is the best country in the world to holiday in. The journey home was fun, too. As I checked in at Ben Gurion, I received a fairly thorough questioning. “Don’t be offended,” they told me. Offended? I loved every moment. I had nothing to hide, and every holiday maker loves to find a captive audience to talk to about their trip. The work that El Al has done to keep its passengers safe is just wonderful. It’s time more airlines and airports looked to the El Al example.

The attempted Detroit attack has come as a shock to some. An Islamic terrorist attacking Obama’s America on Christmas Day: that’s a wake-up call and a half. Or is it? Malcolm Grant is the Provost of University College London, where Abdulmutallab studied and became President of the Islamic Society. In a painfully defensive article in the wake of the incident, Grant wrote of Abdulmutallab: “What induced this behaviour remains a mystery. He has not emerged from a background of deprivation and poverty. He came from one of Nigeria’s wealthiest families.”

This suggests spectacular naiveté about Islamic terrorism on the part of Professor Grant. Speaking of which, the  attempted bombing might also have come as something of a shock to President Barack Obama. You can imagine him shaking his head in despair as he tucked into his Christmas dinner: “What, so you mean prostrating myself in front of our enemies, blaming everything on Israeli settlements and chanting empty self-help slogans isn’t enough to stop terrorists?”

Yes, it’s quite a challenge to keep the skies over America safe, Mr President. If you want some help you could do worse than give El Al a call.

You can visit the Jewish News website here.

15 Responses to “Let's all fly El Al!”

  1. Well said – let’s have some Israeli security consultants in our airports!

  2. Lynne T says:


    Are you sure it was your joke that fell flat. She might not have known what “l’chaim” means.

  3. Chas Newkey-Burden says:

    Thanks Frugal.

    Lynne, I’ve got to know the Scottish Jewess since. I think she understood what I meant but has a more sophisticated sense of humour than me. Imagine that! ;)

  4. RepublicanStones says:

    Unfortunately Chas I cannot share your enthusiasm about Israel, the land itself is beautiful, but that has nothing to do with any political persuasion. The scaffolding Israel is built upon is shameful however and I don’t think anyone who cares about human rights should be recommending it as a holiday destination.

    I have learned howver that you are an Arsenal fan (or do i presume too much), whose your fav player of all time? For me, it has to be the non-flying Dutchman.

    • Lynne T says:


      And what kind of “scaffolding” do you think Palestine was built on and will be built on.. ..or Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan…

      People like you who demonize Israel know nothing about human rights or the history of the region, recent or past.


      Here’s a must read for you from an Israeli-American film maker, originally published in Der Zeit. If you find this piece interesting, you will probably also want to read posted Tenenbom’s account of the Tribeca FF in Qatar, also picked up by Hudsonny:

      We are Property: The Jordanian Government Gets Paid for Every Palestinian Living Here
      by Tuvia Tenenbom

  5. Chas Newkey-Burden says:

    Putting aside our differences about Israel for a moment…

    I am an Arsenal fan indeed. Dennis is my favourite, too. I actually know him quite well. I was his online biographer for two years, which meant we met up three or four times a month. He even wrote a section of one of my recent books.

  6. RepublicanStones says:

    I not going to lie and say Im not jealous, although I’ve always had a soft spot for Perry Groves as well, don’t ask me why. I have only ever made it over to 2 gunners games. Once in 99 a 3-0 win over Coventry, Gilles Grimandi scored if i remember correctly, and the 2 all draw against Man U in 02, i shit a brick at the end when Peres had scored what i thought was a winner but it was disallowed. Still never been to the Emirates.

  7. Chas Newkey-Burden says:

    Am impressed that you’ve been to only two Arsenal games yet you have witnessed a Gilles Grimandi goal. Emirates is technically a breathtaking stadium. But I find it a touch lacking in soul and I still miss Highbury terribly.

  8. Jonathan S says:

    I have always been really impressed with the security at Ben Gurion airport. I am delighted to oblige whenever they take me aside for extra attention, whatever the reason. Isn’t it better to know our security is being well looked after?

    Yet another thing Israel has got right, ahead of many other countries.

  9. NM says:

    “The scaffolding Israel is built upon is shameful however and I don’t think anyone who cares about human rights should be recommending it as a holiday destination”.

    Sigh. The fact that this is so banaly parrotted is more offensive than that it is untrue.

  10. Israelinurse says:

    Apparently we are soon going to have even quicker and better security at BG (also the most beautiful airport I think) as a new biometric system is to be introduced. And if anyone with an Israeli passport hasn’t yet done the swipe-card fingerprinting passport substitute thing, may I thoroughly advise doing so – it saves so much time at passport control.

  11. DF says:

    You do such good work Chas – keep it up.

  12. Michelle says:

    Let’s not forget the how El-Al security foiled the bomb plot being carried out by the Palestinian guy’s Irish girlfriend in 1986…

    El-Al we love you!

  13. DSRI says:

    El Al really is a little piece of Israel in the sky. The in-flight service can be a bit rough around the edges, occasionally, and the passengers are often idiosyncratic – sometimes infuriating, sometimes entertaining, often both. But the pilots (all ex-IAF) are consummate professionals and the security is superlative. Talking of which, I hope everyone in the UK is well aware of the Hindawi Affair:
    Just BTW, wanted to drop you a quick note, Chas, but your “contact” page doesn’t seem to be working.

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