Israeli-American woman sues El Al after she was asked to change seats

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Baggage carts are seen on the tarmac near an El Al Israel Airlines plane at Venice airport February 1, 2016.  Photo courtesy REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Baggage carts are seen on the tarmac near an El Al Israel Airlines plane at Venice airport February 1, 2016. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

JERUSALEM (RNS) An 81-year-old Israeli-American woman has agreed to sue El Al airlines after a flight attendant asked her to change her seat when an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man refused to sit next to her.

The Israel Religious Action Center, a civil and human rights organization, plans to file the suit with Renee Rabinowitz as the plaintiff later this week.

The case highlights the rising tensions between some ultra-Orthodox men who believe it is against Jewish law to sit next to a woman and female passengers who say they have been pressured into relinquishing their seats.

On several occasions during the past few years ultra-Orthodox men have refused to sit in their assigned seats and caused flight delays until their seats were switched. Although incidents occur most often on El Al, Israel’s national airline, flights on other airlines have also been affected.

Rabinowitz, a retired lawyer who escaped the Nazis in her youth, ultimately moved to another seat on a flight from Newark to Tel Aviv in December. She told The New York Times women should not be put in this position.


RELATED STORY: The ‘plane’ truth about the ultra-Orthodox (COMMENTARY)


“Despite all my accomplishments — and my age is also an accomplishment — I felt minimized,” she said. “For me this is not personal. It is intellectual, ideological and legal. I think to myself, here I am, an older woman, educated, I’ve been around the world, and some guy can decide that I shouldn’t sit next to him. Why?”

Rabinowitz said the flight attendant “treated me as if I was stupid.”

The Israel Religious Action Center is seeking $13,000 in compensation from the airline. The airline has instead promised Rabinowitz a $200 discount voucher on her next flight.

El Al said in a statement that its flight attendants “receive different and varied requests and they try to assist as much as possible, the goal being to have the plane take off on time and for all the passengers to arrive at their destination as scheduled.”

In a newly launched online campaign, IRAC is asking people who “are tired of airlines degrading women … to accommodate the whim of ultra-Orthodox men” to write a letter to the airline’s officials.

(Michele Chabin is RNS’ Jerusalem correspondent)

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  • G Key

    Wow. I would have kicked the man off the plane for harassing another passenger.

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  • samuel johnston

    What are people who are in open rebellion against Modernism, doing on an airplane in the first place? What does the Torah have to say about air travel?
    What does growing your hair long and wearing funny clothes have to do with living a moral or ethical life? Obviously calling attention to themselves is higher on their agenda that common civility. I hope Renee Rabinowitz gets damages and a public apology from these jerks.

  • Krissi

    Here, here as we say in Britain.

  • Garson Abuita

    G Key, you aren’t responsible for El Al’s bottom line. They rely heavily on ultra-Orthodox ticket purchases — these are often large families making several trans-oceanic trips per year. El Al has little interest in alienating a big chunk of their market. But they can afford to alienate the secular population, who up til now was content to suffer in silence. A big damages award might change that. There’s also just a general deference by the mostly secular Israeli populace to the ultra-Orthodox when it comes to religious affairs, although this too is slowly changing.

    Samuel-it’s a misconception that the ultra-Orthodox are opposed to modern conveniences. They might avoid TV, movies, most of the Internet, etc., but that’s not opposition to technology. They have no problem with air travel and neither does the Torah.

  • george Nixon Shuler

    I thought that was “Hear, Hear!”

  • George Nixon Shuler

    I suggest we send the Ultra-Orthodox, the Taliban, Al Queda, Isis, The American Religious Reich, Ted Cruz, the Ultra-Hindus who rape nuns, The Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (Warren Jeffs’ sect), etc. on a big ole rocketship to Ganymede (Jupiter’s largest moon) and let the schmucks fight it out there.