Holocaust survivor, 81, suing El Al over request to change seats
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Holocaust survivor, 81, suing El Al over request to change seats

An El Al flight seen at the airstrip at the Ben Gurion International Airport, Aug. 5, 2013. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

An El Al flight seen at the airstrip at the Ben Gurion International Airport, Aug. 5, 2013. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An 81-year-old Holocaust survivor is suing El Al airlines after she was asked to move her seat because a haredi Orthodox man refused to sit next to her.

The Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center said it will sue El Al in a Tel Aviv court this week on behalf of Renee Rabinowitz of Jerusalem, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Rabinowitz, a retired lawyer who made aliyah a decade ago and had been visiting family, agreed to switch her seat in business class on the December flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Israel. A flight attendant offered Rabinowitz a “better seat” closer to first class, according to the Times.

“Despite all my accomplishments — and my age is also an accomplishment — I felt minimized,” she told the newspaper. “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 added that the flight attendant “treated me as if I was stupid” in trying to make the switch.

The Israel Religious Action Center, which spent two years looking for an appropriate test case on switching seats, reportedly needed a case in which the flight attendant was actively involved in making the switch.

Its attorney said in a letter to El Al that Rabinowitz had felt pressured by the flight attendant to switch her seat and accused the airline of illegal discrimination. It is seeking about $13,000 in compensation from the airline.

In response, the airline offered Rabinowitz a $200 discount on her next El Al flight and said the flight attendant had told Rabinowitz that she was under no obligation to switch seats, which the airline said she did without complaint, according to the Times.

“El Al flight attendants are on the front line of providing service for the company’s varied array of passengers,” El Al said in a statement. “In the cabin, the 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.”