Airline moves women from seats due to ultra-Orthodox passengers
Men refused to sit next to women on the El Al flight as flight delayed for over an hour
Gonen Usishkin, El Al’s chief executive, said that in future “any passenger who refuses to sit next to another passenger will be ejected from the flight at once”.
A leading Israeli tech company has stopped flying with the national carrier El Al after the airline moved women from their seats because ultra-Orthodox passengers refused to sit next to them.
The incident occurred last week on a flight from New York to Tel Aviv which was delayed for over an hour when the ultra-Orthodox men, called haredim in Hebrew, boarded just before take-off and refused to sit in their allotted seats next to female passengers.
A Facebook post by Chen Rotem, a passenger on the flight, went viral. He said the four men wouldn’t even look at or speak to female flight attendants who tried to intervene. Stewards then approached passengers row by row, asking them to switch seats.
“After a lot of yelling and manoeuvering an elderly American woman and a young Israeli woman agreed to switch seats, allowing the flight to finally take off,” he wrote.
One of the men was “particularly devout – he boarded the plane with his eyes closed tightly, led by his friend, and stayed that way the entire flight”, Mr Rotem said, adding that other religious men on the flight expressed “shock and revulsion” at the behaviour of the four men.
Barak Eilam, chief executive of Nice Systems, one of Israel’s largest tech companies, said it did not do business with companies that discriminated based on race, gender or religion, so the company would not fly El Al until it changed its “practice and actions discriminating against] women”.
El Al chief executive Gonen Usishkin praised the flight staff for handling the incident with “proper sensitivity” but added that in future “any passenger who refuses to sit next to another passenger will be ejected from the flight at once”.
Two years ago, Renee Rabinowitz, an 80-year-old Holocaust survivor, was represented by the progressive Israel Religious Action Center (Irac) in a lawsuit against El Al after she was pressured by a flight attendant to move because an ultra-Orthodox man refused to sit next to her.
Israel’s supreme court ruled that asking passengers to move their seat based on gender was a form of discrimination. The court also requested that El Al train their crew members to prevent such occurrences.
Irac accused El Al of breaking its commitments in the latest incident and said the female passengers who were forced to move could sue the airline.