An El Al airliner..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
El Al, and by extension other airlines, may no longer ask women to change seats on a flight due to the requests of haredi men who demand not to sit next to women, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled.
The phenomenon of ultra-Orthodox men insisting on not sitting next to unrelated women on air flights has developed into a familiar pattern in recent years, with such demands frequently causing problems and delays for airlines due to the refusal of such men to take their seats before takeoff.
Although many leading authorities in Jewish law, including haredi ones, have ruled that there is no problem in inadvertently touching a woman while on some form of public transportation, a trend of ever-increasing stringencies in the haredi world on numerous issues has led to a refusal by haredi men to sit next to or with women.
The ruling, issued on Wednesday, relates to a case brought by the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, in December 2015 on behalf of Renee Rabinowitz, an 81-year-old Holocaust survivor and Israeli citizen who boarded El Al’s Flight No. 81 from Newark to Israel.
Rabinowitz was asked by a flight attendant to move to another seat due to the request of a haredi man sitting next to her. She reluctantly agreed to do so but subsequently turned to IRAC to sue the airline over the incident.
“Requesting a seat change on an airplane before or after takeoff, based on a passenger’s gender, constitutes a breach of the Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, [Services and Entry into Public Places Law],” ruled Judge Dana Cohen-Lekach of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.
The decision means that it will now be considered illegal and discriminatory for El Al to ask a passenger to move from her seat due to her gender.
IRAC lawyer Riki Shapira Rosenberg, who represented Rabinowitz, said it would also mean that all other airline companies would be subject to the same standards, and that anyone suing airlines for being moved due to her gender would likely win the case.
She added that dozens of similar complaints have been made in the past to IRAC, by women who were discriminated against on El Al flights by being asked to move their seat at the request of a haredi passenger.
The ruling requires El Al to define within six months a new procedure for such an occurrence and explain it to all its flight staff through a written directive and training.
El Al is also required to pay Rabinowitz NIS 6,500 in damages.
“This is revolutionary. The court ruled that just as it would be unthinkable to move an Arab passenger at the request of a Jewish passenger, a female passenger cannot be moved at the request of a haredi passenger,” Shapira Rosenberg said following the ruling. “This is illegal discrimination which constitutes a civil offense and is deserving of compensation.”
Anat Hoffman, executive director of IRAC, said: “Renee Rabinowitz, an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor, set out to fight El Al because she wanted to prevent humiliation and discrimination of other women on flights. Just like [Wonder Woman actress] Gal Gadot, Rabinowitz is a beautiful Israeli who has proven that she has superpowers.”