Breaking: El Al flight ELY315 from Israel to London is now making an emergency landing in Cyprus to let off a male passenger who refuses to sit next to a woman. pic.twitter.com/biYCHQGQgy— David Ha'ivri???? (@haivri) June 26, 2018
Israel’s national airline has finally set its foot down to address the long-standing problem of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men refusing to sit next to women due to their religious beliefs.
The country’s major carrier, El Al, said it will no longer accommodate such requests which critics believe is a blatant example of gender discrimination.
“To allay any doubt, I have a tightening of the protocol on this issue: From now on, any passenger who refuses to sit next to another passenger will immediately be removed from the flight,” El Al President and CEO Gonen Usishkin said in a statement.
The decision came days after four Israeli men boarded a Tel Aviv bound flight in New York, and refused to sit on the seats assigned to them as they were next to women. The ruckus they created caused a 75 minutes delay in the take off – until the two female passengers eventually agreed to move.
El Al, without wasting any time, apologized for the incident, stating that “any discrimination against passengers is absolutely forbidden.”
Nevertheless, the word of men’s absurd demand soon spread and prompted backlash from one of the largest technology organizations in Israel, NICE.
“At NICE we don’t do business with companies that discriminate against race, gender or religion. NICE will not fly EL AL Israel Airlines until they change their practice and actions discriminating women,” tech company’s CEO Barak Eilam wrote on LinkedIn.
In fact, Eilam also announced via social media posts the company, whose annual revenue goes up to billions of dollars, would ban its employees from flying Israel’s flag carrier.
For obvious reasons, the announcement was pretty unsettling for Usishkin who reportedly got in touch with Eilam.
“The post by the CEO of Nice was made hastily without checking the facts, and I made that clear in a call with him,” said Usishkin.
The incident took place one year after a landmark ruling by an Israeli court, according to which airline employees cannot ask female passengers to move seats to accommodate men.
In a country where religion plays a major role in shaping its culture and lifestyle, it’s hardly surprising the beliefs are even used to justify instances of such overt cases of gender discrimination.
The airline has often come under fire for its derogatory practices. For instance, last year, a Holocaust survivor took El Al to court over the issue ? and won. As a result, the judge gave an ultimatum of six months to the company to provide staff with necessary training to avoid such inconveniences in the future.
However, female activists were skeptical of the company’s intentions as they suspected the decision was prompted by a fear of loss of revenue than the genuine concern for the discriminatory practice.
“It is disturbing, however, that El Al’s new hard line was apparently established in response to the threat of the loss of revenue, and not in response to women’s previous requests or to be in compliance with law,” said Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, co-founder of Chochmat Nashim, an advocacy organization for Orthodox Jewish women.
“We encourage El Al and the airports authority take a public and active stance against the marginalization of women, in every form, and to encourage other businesses to do the same,” she added. “The alternative is a slide towards extreme practices such as this, with little to slow its pace.”
Banner Image Credits: REUTERS/Amir Cohen