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.
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“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)