US finds Kuwaiti airline discriminated against Israeli

View of empty Kuwait Airways check-in counters at Kuwait Airport on Sunday, March 18, 2012.   (Gustavo Ferrari/ AP Images)

The Kuwait Airways check-in counters at Kuwait Airport, March 18, 2012. (Gustavo Ferrari/ AP Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. Department of Transportation said Kuwait Airways unlawfully discriminated against an Israeli passenger.

“By refusing to transport Israeli citizens to and from the U.S. and a third country that accepts Israeli citizens, in this case the United Kingdom, the airline is in violation of the law,” the Sept. 30 letter from the department to the airline said, concluding an investigation into a complaint.

The Kuwaiti airline refused in 2013 to sell a ticket to Eldad Gatt, an Israeli citizen who wanted to travel on an Israeli passport from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to Heathrow Airport in London.

Gatt was unable to order tickets online on the website of Kuwait Airways, as the airline’s online booking system prevented him from selecting Israel as his passport-issuing country.

The department concluded that the airline had violated federal laws. Blane Workie, the department’s assistant general counsel for enforcement said in that letter that “an air carrier or foreign air carrier may not subject a person, place, port, or type of traffic in foreign air transportation to unreasonable discrimination.”

The department investigated and initially rejected Gatt’s discrimination complaint, according to a statement and letter provided by transportation officials. Gatt appealed the department’s decision, and the case was reopened.

The Associated Press quoted Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx as saying that the case is a warning that “any airline that wishes to operate in the U.S. should know that we will not tolerate discrimination of any kind in our skies.”

The airline explained that it’s against the law in Kuwait to do business with any Israeli citizen or company. But the department rejected this explanation, saying it cannot justify the violation of U.S. laws.

The department has given the airline, which may face penalties for the violation, 15 days to respond.

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