El Al faces backlash after moving female passengers.
El Al faces backlash after moving female passengers.

Airline in hot water over discrimination

ISRAELI airline El Al is facing new allegations of discrimination after moving two female passengers under pressure from male ultra-Orthodox travellers who refused to sit next to women.

The flight from New York to Tel Aviv was delayed by more than an hour until the women were forced to move.

Khen Rotem, who was on the flight, wrote on Facebook, according to the Times of Israel, that airline crew originally tried to reason with the men. However, because they were also women, the four men involved wouldn't speak to them.

"The crew tries to solve the problem. This doesn't work. The female flight attendants clear space for the authoritative men on board … the ultra-Orthodox are not ready to speak with, or even look at the female flight attendants," Mr Rotem wrote.

"All the men in the crew, except for the captain, are now only dealing with this instead of preparing for takeoff and serving the passengers. The ultra-Orthodox don't blink. One of the crew members threatens: 'If you don't sit down, you can get off the plane right now.'"

But despite the threats, it was the women who had to end up being moved.

Mr Rotem said that eventually, "after a lot of writhing, shouts and manoeuvring", an elderly American woman and a young Israeli woman agreed to switch seats, allowing the flight to finally takeoff.

Mr Rotem described one of men as "particularly devout and ascetic" having even got on the plane with his eyes closed and keeping them shut for the duration of the flight in an effort to avoid looking at any woman on board.

But, he noted, other Orthodox Jewish men aboard the flight expressed "surprise and revulsion" at the four ultra-Orthodox men's conduct.

In 2016, a similar case of discrimination was filed against the airline by a female passenger. Israel's Supreme Court then ruled that asking a passenger to move their seat based on gender is a form of discrimination.

In a statement, El Al said discriminating against airline passengers is "forbidden" and that it does its utmost to serve a "wide array of populations and travellers."

The Israel Religious Action Center, a progressive group that led last year's lawsuit, accused the airline of breaking its commitments.