(photo credit: STEVE FITZGERALD/WIKIMEDIA)
When Kuwait Airways prevented an Israeli passenger from boarding the flight he had booked from Frankfurt to Bangkok last year, it looked like an open-and-shut case.
Here in liberal, democratic Germany a foreign company had perpetrated a straightforward act of discrimination against an individual on no other basis than his citizenship in the Jewish state.
The Lawfare Project, a legal think tank and litigation fund committed to protecting Jewish civil and human rights, which I represent in Germany, decided to back the passenger, who filed a lawsuit in the Frankfurt District Court. The justice of our case, we thought and still think, is beyond doubt. When the judge requested a translation of the Kuwaiti law that bans all Kuwaiti citizens from doing any business with the Jewish state or its citizens, our confidence grew. Surely a German judge could never read this so-called law, the codified institutionalized racism of a medieval, feudal kingdom, and decide to use it as a basis for law-making in a free and democratic country?
Astonishingly, that is exactly what he did. We were shocked. When the judge found in favor of Kuwait Airways he legitimized antisemitic discrimination. It was a shameful verdict for democracy and for Germany, violating our laws and values. In the face of such a clear travesty of justice, we have now submitted an appeal.
As ludicrous as the judge’s verdict was, however, the response of several political figures has been encouraging.
German Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth, described it as “incomprehensible.”
Parliamentary State Secretary Christian Lange wrote to Chancellor Angela Merkel asking her to “personally ensure that the landing rights of Kuwait Airways in Germany are immediately withdrawn.”
Acting Transport Minister Christian Schmidt has written to the Kuwaiti Minister of Labor, Economics and Social Affairs about the “disconcerting” policy. It was “fundamentally unacceptable to exclude citizens because of their nationality,” wrote Schmidt.
Three regional parliaments in Germany – Bayern, Hessen and Nordrhein-Westfalen – have passed resolutions condemning Kuwait Airways for its racist policy.
Correspondence I received from the judge during the case suggests he bought Kuwait Airways’ self-justifying argument: that because it offered to buy the Israeli passenger a flight on a different airline, it was in the clear. It’s a ridiculous argument.
“If a restaurant refused to provide service to someone because they were black, we would rightly be outraged and appalled,” said my colleague Brooke Goldstein, The Lawfare Project’s executive director.
“We wouldn’t stop being appalled if on kicking him out, the restaurant offered him a voucher for the restaurant next door,” she added.
In fact, that is the definition of institutionalized racism.
Separate drinking fountains.
Kuwait Airways is resolutely committed to its racist policy.
When it faced similar legal pressure in Switzerland and the United States, it simply canceled its New York to London route and all its inter-European flights rather than compromise the purity of its antisemitism. If that’s the policy in Kuwait City, so be it. But in nations of free people and free markets, like Germany, it is absurd, morally wrong and commercially wrong-headed.
Imagine if all airlines started banning members of ethnic groups or citizens of countries they didn’t like, but offered to buy them tickets on other flights. Aeroflot banning Ukrainians. Air India banning Pakistanis. Iberia Airlines banning Catalans. Airports would become log-jammed as passengers waited to be accommodated on airlines with less racist or xenophobic animus toward them. The only beneficiaries would be the sellers of tuna sandwiches in the terminal, as long as they didn’t object to the nationality of their customers.
Yet such discrimination only seems to occur with the citizens of one country and one country only – the Jewish state of Israel. Bigotry against the Jewish state is commonplace across the Middle East.
We saw it in Abu Dhabi when an Israeli Judo gold medalist was not allowed to hear his anthem or raise his flag during the medal ceremony.
The International Judo Federation might be happy to legitimize such brazen hatred, but I never thought I would see the day in my lifetime when a German judge would do the same. But it is in this way that the antisemitism prevalent in other parts of the world, that we thought we had consigned to our history books, becomes whitewashed, sanitized and revived by our own institutions.
Our country, which is famed for being open for business, has on this occasion found itself open for state-sponsored racism. We cannot let this judgment stand. As we appeal, I urge all German citizens and leaders who cherish our values of freedom, tolerance and the rights of the individual to join us in calling for justice.The author is the German counsel for The Lawfare Project.