US sends warning to Kuwait Airways over discrimination against Israelis

​The case is a test of existing US anti-boycott laws.​

November 1, 2015 19:36
2 minute read.
Kuwait Airways

Kuwait Airways. (photo credit: STEVE FITZGERALD/WIKIMEDIA)

WASHINGTON -- The US Department of Transportation is preparing legal action against Kuwait Airways should it refuse to end its practice of discriminating against Israeli passengers flying to and from the United States.

Issuing a "clear" warning of pending action, the department secretary, Anthony Foxx, said in a statement to The Jerusalem Post that the US "will not tolerate discrimination by airlines against passengers," after one Israeli-American was denied by the airline a ticket from New York to London in 2013.

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"We will take decisive action to enforce that point," Foxx said. "We are committed to ensuring that Israeli citizens traveling from the US to the UK be given the same flight options and freedoms as other passengers. Protecting the civil rights of airline passengers is a department priority."

A Transportation Department official said that the US has several tools in its kit should Kuwait fail to comply with the order, and would not detail a single path forward. But Kuwait's failure to comply after successful US legal action may ultimately prevent the airline from flying to the country.

In September, the US determined that the airline was likely in violation of the Interstate Commerce Act for unreasonably discriminating against passengers. Kuwait Airways may also have violated US laws against the boycott and divestment of Israel and its citizens, the Transportation Department wrote in a letter to the airline at the end of the month.

Kuwaiti law prevents its airline from issuing tickets to Israeli passengers as part of a broader set of laws in line with the Arab League's boycott of persons conducting business with Israel.

Kuwait Airways (KAC) pushed back in October, questioning whether the US had simply issued guidance as opposed to a directive. The September letter sent by the Transportation Department "does not contain compulsory language or specifically order KAC to take any action," they wrote, and rather "uses permissive language regarding the department’s expectations."

Thus, the department has since clarified its position: The US will have no other choice but to take "administrative and/or judicial action" should Kuwait Airways continue the practice.

"In light of KAC’s refusal to comply with US law, we are directing that KAC cease and desist from refusing to transport Israeli citizens between the US and any third country where they are allowed to disembark based on the laws of that country," the department's lawyer, Blane Workie, wrote in a letter to the airline on October 22.

The US could proceed with action by mid-November.

"We've stood firm on this," the Transportation official said, noting Kuwait's effort to have the department reconsider. "It's something the secretary takes very seriously."

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