By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
For years members of the public flying to and from Israel were subjected to harassment by a small number of extreme religious Jewish men. These men decided that they would not sit next to women on flights, despite the fact they had selected seats, sometimes even a middle seat, and agreed to the rules of flying. They treated the airline like their own personal house, deciding who will sit where. Instead of removing them when they made a scene and delayed flights, the airlines flying to Israel catered to the men. They forced women to move seats, quietly trying to cover up daily harassment of women passengers.
The more the airlines appeased, the more the men delayed flights and decided they had the run of the airlines. They rioted in 2008 over the screening of a movie on board. They would forcibly close screens on the flight claiming movies were “immodest.” Instead of removing the men and arresting them for endangering flight safety, the airlines were hostage to them, fearing their supposed financial power to change airlines. It is part of an overall problem in Israeli society where a small number of religious intolerant hate-filled fanatics feel they have a right to attack and harass and insult others.
Police had to be called in the UK after a delay and passengers were treated like second class citizens, moved around at the whims of the new religious dictators of the sky. I was on two flights where this happened. In one from Ukraine the men wouldn’t sit down and pushed to the back all demanding water and demanding where to sit. In another a man asked for a woman to be moved.
Flying to Israel became a headache because of the constant appeasement of the men. A secular passenger would never be allowed to order a haredi man to be moved, a passenger would never be permitted to decide he won’t sit next to a person of color, but the airlines routinely made excuses for discriminating against women.
Why didn’t the airlines move the men? Why did they always move the women and always cater? Why did they never bring charges against the men for disrupting flights and harassing passengers? Why did the 99% of travelers have to be inconvenienced for the demands of the 1%?
Finally after a decade or more of harassment an Israeli court told an Israeli airline that the practice is unacceptable. In 2015 Rina Rabinovitz, an 82 year old Holocaust survivor was asked by the airline to move because a younger Orthodox man didn’t want her sitting next to him. She sued the airline. “My message to women in Israel is when they encounter an extremist religious ruling like this, they should each fight it in their own way.”
Ynet reports: “The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court accepted a compromise agreement reached between the passenger and the airline, determining El Al’s policy on the subject is unlawful. Rina Rabinovitz, an 82-year-old retired lawyer, boarded an El Al flight from Newark International Airport to Tel Aviv in December 2015. Shortly after she sat down in her allocated seat, a flight attendant approached her and asked her to move to a ‘better’ seat up front, closer to first class, because of a request by an ultra-Orthodox man who was supposed to sit in the seat next to her.”
Why did the airlines have a policy always to move the women and not the men? We may never know why male discrimination against women was accepted, but now we know an Israeli court has said a company should no longer discriminate.
The court ruling notes: “Under no circumstances should a staff member approach a passenger next to whom someone doesn’t want to sit on account of the passenger’s gender and ask the passenger to move to another seat on the plane, as this constitutes a violation of the law against discrimination in services.”
That’s a good ruling.