JERUSALEM (JTA) — An El Al Airlines flight from New York to Israel was delayed by more than an hour after four Haredi Orthodox men refused to take their assigned seats next to women.
The incident took place on Thursday night and was recounted in a Facebook post by one of the passengers on the flight, Khen Rotem.
Rotem, an Israeli rapper who goes by the moniker Sagol 59, said that one of the four haredi Orthodox men who was “particularly devout and ascetic” got on the plane with his eyes closed and led by the hand of one of the other men and remained that way throughout the flight.
The flight attendants, according to Rotem, worked to resolve the situation, though the haredi passengers would only speak to male attendants. One finally threatened: “If you don’t sit down, you can get off the plane now.”
Two women, one identified as an American in her 70s and the second a young Israeli woman, eventually agreed to move seats. Rotem noted that the women remained in economy class and did not receive an upgrade. He also said that other Orthodox passengers on the flight plane “expressed surprise and disgust” at the men’s behavior.
“While on the El Al plane they were dealing with matters of practical theology and personal faith versus the rights of the individual and civil order, 12 planes from other carriers jumped the line ahead of Flight 002,” Rotem noted.
El Al addressed the issue in a statement, that also was posted as a comment to Rotem’s Facebook post. “We apologize for any inconvenience caused. Any discrimination by passengers is absolutely forbidden. El Al flight attendants do everything that they can to provide service to a wide range of passengers and various requests and try to assist. All of this is done so that takeoff is on time and to take the passengers to their destination on schedule.”
One year ago, an Israeli court ruled that El Al cannot ask women to move seats to accommodate a man who does not want to sit next to a woman, in response to a lawsuit filed by a female Holocaust survivor in her 80s.
Renee Rabinowitz, 83, a retired lawyer who made aliyah more than a decade ago and had been visiting family in the United States, agreed to switch her seat in business class on a December 2015 flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Israel. A flight attendant offered Rabinowitz a “better seat” closer to first class. The flight attendant “treated me as if I was stupid,” she told The New York Times at the time the lawsuit was filed.
The judge in the case ruled that the airline must declare that it is forbidden for a crew member to ask a passenger to change seats at the request of another passenger based on gender. El Al agreed to tell its cabin staff in writing about the prohibition and to provide training on how to deal with such situations.