Hundreds Rally at U.S. Embassy To Protest Lavi Cancellation
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ About 800 aircraft workers rallied outside the U.S. and Canadian Embassies today, the third straight day of protests against Israel’s decision to stop production of the U.S.-funded Lavi jet fighter.
The Cabinet halted the seven-year-old project Sunday after months of prodding from U.S. officials concerned that the plane’s development had run far over budget.
Israel Aircraft Industries, the plane’s manufacturer, has said the cost estimates to produce the fighter have risen from about $15 to $18 million to about $68 million per plane.
Most of the protesters said they were not demonstrating against the United States or Canada, but were waiting to fill out forms for immigration visas to dramatize the threat to their livelihoods posed by cancellation of the Lavi.
Israeli government officials said the cancellation meant at least 3,000 aircraft workers will lose their jobs.
″We are showing the Israeli government we are serious about leaving the country for professional reasons if there is no Lavi,″ aircraft engineer Nissim Moses told The Associated Press as he stood outside the U.S. Embassy.
″I have to feed my family. I don’t want to leave the country or emigrate but if I can’t survive, I won’t have much choice,″ said 40-year-old engine technician Alexander Bleich. He added that he had been told he is slated for dismissal.
″There are no alternatives for me here. I won’t resort to working on a production line for underwear and socks. We’ve already become subject to American dictates, so I might as well become an American,″ Bleich said.
The protesters in Tel Aviv dispersed quietly after about three hours.
In Jerusalem, several hundred workers crowded outside the Finance and Foreign Ministry buildings and blew shofars, or ram’s horns, at the Wailing Wall, police said.
Finance Minister Moshe Nissim was forced to leave his office under police guard by a back door to attend a meeting at the Parliament building. The protesters shouted ″We want work.″
The United States, which gives Israel $1.8 billion in annual military aid, provided nearly all the $1.3 billion spent on the Lavi, Hebrew for ″lion.″ It would have been Israel’s next generation fighter plane.
The U.S. has offered Israel several alternatives to the project including promises of advanced delivery of U.S.-made F-16 fighter planes.