Israeli airline can no longer ask women to move from seats next to ultra-Orthodox men

The Telegraph, UK/June 22, 2017

By Raf Sanchez

Jerusalem -- Israel’s national airline El Al can no longer ask female passengers to move seats if an ultra-Orthodox man objects to sitting next to a woman, a Jerusalem court has ruled. 

The landmark decision came in response to a lawsuit by Renee Rabinowitz, an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor, who sued the airline after she was asked to move seats to avoid offending an ultra-Orthodox man. 

Ms Rabinowitz was sitting in business class on a flight from the US to Israel when a flight attendant asked her to change seats because the religious man in the next seat did not want to sit next to her. 

The incident was just one in a long string of cases where deeply religious men have caused commotion on journeys to and from Israel. Several recent flights from the US and UK have been delayed because of their protests. 

Ms Rabinowitz sued the airline with the help of Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), a group that represents the liberal Reform stream of Judaism widely practiced in the US.

The court sided with Ms Rabinowitz and on Wednesday ruled that the policy of moving female passengers was “a direct transgression of the law preventing discrimination”

“Under absolutely no circumstances can a crew member ask a passenger to move from their designated seat because the adjacent passenger doesn’t wasn’t to sit next to them due to their gender,” wrote Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Dana Cohen-Lekah.

As part of a settlement El Al agreed to tell staff they could no longer heed the protests of ultra-Orthodox men who did not want to sit next to women. 

The court awarded Ms Rabinowtiz 6,500 shekels (£1,448) but the retired lawyer said she had brought the case on principle, not because of money.  

“[The judge] realised it’s a matter of El Al changing its policy, which they have been ordered to do,” she told the New York Times.

The IRAC called the ruling “a huge victory”.

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