El Al accommodates ultra-Orthodox men who won’t sit next to women

In violation of a court order, an El Al flight from New York sat on the runway for more than an hour.

An El Al plane in Ben Gurion Airport (photo credit: REUTERS)
An El Al plane in Ben Gurion Airport
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A religious man refuses to sit next to a woman. It happens often but is usually resolved quickly.
Last week, a scheduled El Al flight from New York’s JFK Airport to Israel sat on the runway for more than an hour after four ultra-Orthodox men refused to take their ticketed seats next to women.
It was not the first time this has happened at El Al, which was hit by a court ruling last year barring the airline from asking passengers to move based on gender.
The most recent incident went viral after Khen Rotem, an Israeli rapper who performs under the stage name Sagol 59, documented the scene.
One of the men was “particularly devout and ascetic,” Rotem wrote on Facebook, “and he boarded the plane with his eyes closed tightly, led by his friend – and stayed that way throughout the flight.”
El Al flight attendants struggled to resolve the fracas as the four men refused to speak to any of the stewardesses.
One of the male crew members threatened: “If you don’t sit down, you can get off the plane right now.”
With almost an hour gone by, the airline blinked first. Stewards approached passengers row-by-row, asking them to switch seats. An American woman around 70 years old and a younger Israeli woman ended up agreeing to move.
That left the plane taking off 75 minutes behind schedule – with 12 planes cutting ahead of the El Al flight on the runway.
The two women who were asked to move on last week’s flight can file a lawsuit, according to Karen Saar, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Religious Action Center, which is linked to the Reform movement.
The gesture by El Al goes against an Israeli court ruling issued in June 2017 that awarded Holocaust survivor Renee Rabinowitz damages after an El Al flight attendant asked her to switch seats because an ultra-Orthodox man wouldn’t sit next to her.
The judge also requested that El Al train their crew members to prevent such occurrences.
“Women are being asked to move, and that’s illegal,” said Saar. “It was done after El Al, almost to the day a year ago, agreed that all of their employees would be trained so it wouldn’t happen again.
El Al apologized for the incident but said the plane was not held up as long as reported.
“The flight left 18 minutes late and not as claimed in the uploaded [Facebook] post,” said Anat Friedman, a spokeswoman for El Al.
El Al added in a statement, “Any discrimination by passengers is strictly prohibited. El Al crew members are doing everything that they can to provide good and courteous service to a wide range of passengers, and to try to assist them. This is in order to take off on time and to bring passengers to their destination with the utmost security and comfort.”