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Victory for woman who sued El Al over gender segregation

Victory for woman who sued El Al over gender segregation

Last April we carried a piece about Renee Rabinowitz, above, who launched a lawsuit against Israel’s national carrier after she was told to move from her seat because an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man did not want to sit next to her on a flight from Newark to Tel Aviv in 2015.

Well, the good news is that Rabinovitz, 83, a Holocaust survivor and retired lawyer, has won her case.

A court ruling handed down yesterday explicitly forbids Israeli airlines’ flight attendants from asking women to switch seats to accommodate ultra-Orthodox men who won’t sit next to them – and Rabinowitz was awarded damages.

Said Orly Erez-Likhovski, who represented Rabinowitz along with Ricki Shapira of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC):

This is one more victory in a long string of legal victories challenging the exclusion of women in the public sphere in Israel.

IRAC, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform movement in Israel, has been in the front lines of gender exclusion cases involving gender segregation on buses, modesty signs and prayer at the Western Wall.

Rabinowitz, a Jerusalem resident, was settling into her business-class seat when a flight attendant asked her to move to another seat, also in business class, to accommodate an ultra-Orthodox man who did not want to sit next to a woman.

Rabinowitz agreed to do so to avoid a fuss, but later, feeling that she had been insulted by the request, decided to go to court to challenge the policy.

The man believed he having a woman sit next to him was “dangerous”.

Rabinowitz said:

He started to tell me it was forbidden by the Torah. I interrupted him to say the Torah says nothing about a man sitting next to a woman. He conceded I was right, but said there was a general principle that a person should not put himself in a dangerous situation.

I had to do some quick thinking. He was wrong, but we had an 11-hour flight ahead of us. It’s not so pleasant to be sitting with a person who would rather you weren’t there. So I decided to move.

She said she was “exhilarated” when she learned of the ruling during a Bible study class at her assisted-living facility.  “I’m thrilled because the judge understood the issue,” she said, praising Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Dana Cohen-Lekach, who handed down the decision.

She realized it is not a question of money; they awarded a very small sum. She realized it’s a matter of El Al changing its policy, which they have been ordered to do.

El Al argued in court that its policies and the actions of its employees should not be considered discrimination and that accommodating gender-based seating preferences applied to both men and women. The airline said that flight attendants should be able to assist with such preferences as they do in cases where family members who want to sit together or passengers are disturbed by small children.

When Rabinowitz filed the suit, a company spokeswoman, Dana Hermann, said in a statement that:

EL AL Israel Airlines maintains the highest levels of equal treatment and respect for all passengers.’

She added:

Our employees in the air, on the ground, in Israel and around the globe do all possible to listen to and provide solutions to the concerns or requests from our customers whatever they might be, including seating requests on the airplane.

There have been numerous instances of flights not being able to take off on time in recent years due to ultra-Orthodox men’s refusal to sit next to women, particularly on El Al.

In 2014 an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv was delayed when Haredi Jews refused to sit next to women. Instead they stood praying in the aisle for duration of the flight.

Public pressure on the company proved unsuccessful: A 2014 grassroots campaign, including an online petition signed by several thousand people, was unable to spark change. At the time, El Al told Haaretz that it dealt with each case individually, had no official policy for dealing with the issue and no intention of putting one into place.

Erez-Likhovski said the ruling still allowed men (or women) who didn’t want to sit next to members of the opposite sex for religious reasons to switch to vacant seats or ask other passengers to switch with them – if they made such requests themselves. But she said that the decision made clear that it was illegal for any airline employee to ask a passenger to switch seats in order to accommodate others’ gender preferences.

The ruling reads:

In no situation may a crew member ask a passenger to move out of their assigned seat when the adjacent passenger won’t sit beside them because of their gender.

Rabinowitz had initially asked for 50,000 New Shekels (around £11,000) in damages and was ultimately awarded only 6,500. The court also required El Al to communicate its policy in writing and train its staff on how to properly abide by it within the next six months.

Erez-Likhovski said:

It was very important was that El Al pay damages to our plaintiff, to make it very clear that what they did to her was illegal, and we are very happy that this was done. It is a very important decision, and I think it will change what El Al and other airlines do in the future. Of course, we are going to monitor it very closely and make sure it really happens.

She said if anyone is asked to move seats for reasons of gender, “they have to tell the flight attendant it is illegal,” and if pressure persists, “they should contact us.”

In a response, El Al said:

The two sides came to an agreement in which [El Al] policies will be clarified to its employees. The court gave legal standing to that agreement and the company will abide by the ruling.

Hat tip: BarrieJohn

14 responses to “Victory for woman who sued El Al over gender segregation”

  1. Bart says:

    I claim the right to request that a fundamentalist jew be moved to another seat rather than have him sit next to me.

  2. Bart says:

    This bit spoiled a good story … she was “exhilarated” when she learned of the ruling during a Bible study class at her assisted-living facility.

    Cramming for her finals no doubt … but its a shame that graduation in this junk subject holds no post graduate opportunity for her.

  3. tonye says:

    Good on her for not putting up with that nonsense.

    And shame on El Al who allowed this to happen, it’s not so long ago (60’s and 70’s) when they had enough problems from religious fanatics (PFLP).

  4. Gui says:

    So, these kind of fundamentalist guys does not only have problems with relationships between peoples of the same sex but have too problems regarding relationships and even aproximation between persons of opposites sexes.

    Curious.

  5. barriejohn says:

    It was thoughtless of her to “put him in a dangerous situation” (by being a woman).

  6. Matthew Carr says:

    Guys, if you’re really that flatulent you should just come out and say so… verbally. And how about some consideration for the people behind you?

  7. Trevor Blake says:

    Perhaps the orthodox man should be required to demonstrate that he is, in fact, the opposite sex of the person he asks to move.

    Or perhaps anyone not willing to sit next to a stranger should book seats such that they do not.

    Or perhaps orthodox Judaism is as laughable as every other ancient ghost story invented by illiterate goat herders thousands of years ago.

  8. ray metcalfe says:

    what is dangerous about sitting in a seat next to someone of the opposite sex? Perhaps he was worried she might ask him to join the 5 mile high club. Why did the attendant have to ask her to move why couldn’t the half whit who thought he was in danger move himself. It just shows how bonkers religion is no matter what its brand.

  9. L.Long says:

    Since she received the ‘good news’ while in buyBull class, she shows herself a hypocrite by bossing a male and going against his wishes! But then she may not have read that part or any other part that is against how she feels!

  10. John the Drunkard says:

    If the Haredis really want all this ‘special’ accommodation,’ why don’t they book their seats accordingly, or charter their own ‘all-twit’ flights?

    It would appear that their real intention is to inflict maximum disruption upon everyone outside their cult.

  11. Bart says:

    @ ray metcalfe
    half whit … WRONG. HALF WIT … RIGHT. Not you of course.

  12. Bart says:

    @ John the Drunkard
    Like most pious devoutees its all about them. They just have to be noticed whilst going about their ostentatiously humble errands for god. The finery and the robes and the outrageously nutty garb has evolved over time to what the pious wear today. The looks have had to evolve because the once noticably different became familiar and extra bits of embellishment had to be added and added to restore the difference. The awfully overstyled robes of cardinals and popes and archbishops always put me in mind of those grotesque interbred bulgy eyed fat bellied gossamer finned goldfish. Ostentatiously ugly and useless. Just like the overdressed clerics of god.

  13. Bart says:

    Personally I don’t really mind the silly garb of the devout. Like the garish colours and patterns on venomous snakes they alert one to the presence of danger. Enormous furry hat approaching … beware … beware … lunatic fundamentalist fanatic … beware … beware … lunatic fundamentalist fanatic … be prepared to take evasive action.

    And it makes them look unhinged too. Anyone who dresses as such and is unaware of the derision thus attracted really has to be a touch unhinged or stupendously arrogant … or more likely both. I’d hate it if the loons dressed in plain clothes and mingled undetected.I mean … you could be unknowingly be dangerously sat next to one on the bus.

  14. CoastalMaineBird says:

    Matthew 17:20 “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.””

    So….. who needs airplanes, anyway?