The Haredim comprise a number of sects of ultra-Orthodox Jews who adhere strictly to a religious code of conduct. The Haredi code happens to prohibit tactile contact of any sort between men and women. And so it happens that Haredim often refuse to sit next to women on planes. They might accidentally touch them! And get cooties!
As a secular Jew, I am especially embarrassed and revulsed, when Jews engage in this type of ridiculous behavior. But of course few religions are exempt from irrationality. I've posted before on men of the Haredim refusing to sit next to women on planes, and how the airlines (including El Al, the Israeli national carrier) try to accommodate them.
What those airlines should be doing is to either heave the buggers off the plane (calling security if they have to), or require the Haredim to purchase an empty seat next to them beforehand, or sit together. El Al's refusal to do so has led to successful lawsuits against them, like the suit by Renee Rabinowitz against El Al last year. As I reported, Rabinowitz, who was unwillingly moved at the request of a Haredi man, won a suit that got her not only money, but a promise from El Al. As I noted at the time (my emphasis):
Rabinowitz asked for 50,000 shekels (about $14,000 US) in damages, and was represented by the Israeli Religious Action Center, a legal and reform organization run by progressive Jews. El Al defended itself by saying it wasn’t discriminating against women because it would also ask a man to move if seated next to an Orthodox woman who objected to male cooties. But that’s still gender discrimination, and the judge awarded Rabinowitz 6500 shekels ($1800). More important, because El Al was found to violate Israel anti-discrimination laws, the airline agreed to never again ask a passenger to move seats based on a request that involved gender.
Well, here we go again: Reader Alex called my attention to this article on Ynet (click on screenshot).
A passenger, Khen Rotem, wrote about it on his Facebook page (in Hebrew); the partial translation is below:
"The planned takeoff time: Six in the evening. Everyone boards, sits down, waits. Then the commotion starts. Four Haredim who boarded the flight refuse to sit next to women."Rotem said one of the Haredi men, "particularly zealot and ascetic, boarded the plane with his eyes shut tight, led by the hand by his friend, and remained that way throughout the entire flight.""The flight crew tries to resolve the matter, but it isn't working. The flight attendants male [sic] way to the authoritative men on board—the customer service manager and someone who appeared to be the head of the crew—who try to resolve the crisis. The Haredim were unwilling to speak with—or look at—the female flight attendants. All of the men on the flight crew, apart from the captain, were now focused solely on this, instead of preparing for takeoff and serving the passengers. The Haredim won't blink first. One crew member threatens: 'If you don't sit down, you can get off the plane now.'"Eventually, Rotem wrote, "after many minutes of negotiations, the crew gave in. And then a prolonged diplomatic process began of moving female passengers from their seats to clear a row of seats for the four Haredim."After a lot of twists and turns, shouting and maneuvering, two women (one American around 70 years old and the other a young Israeli woman) agreed—because of time constraints among other things—to switch seats, and the crisis was resolved."
This infuriates me. It's bad enough that the men won't sit next to women, but it's compounded when they won't even talk to or look at female flight attendants. What Jewish law dictates that women shouldn't be recognized as human beings?
The article notes that other Jews on the plane, including religious ones, were rightfully disgusted by the behavior of the Haredim, that the flight was delayed for an hour and a quarter by their behavior, and that the women who were displaced weren't even offered upgrades.
And El Al's response to Rotem is hardly satisfactory:
"Hello Khen. We apologize if any inconvenience was caused. Any discrimination of passengers is strictly forbidden. El Al's flight attendants do all they can to provide service to a wide variety of passengers and fulfill a variety of different requests, trying to assist as much as they can. All of this is done in order to take off on time and bring the passengers to their destination according to schedule."
This masterpiece of equivocation violates El Al's settlement with Renee Rabinowitz, and I've told El Al so in two ways, via Tweet . .
(feel free to tweet to El Al USA if you have a Twitter account).
. . . and by an email to El Al customer relations in New York (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Dear El Al airlines:I have read in Ynet an article describing how, on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv, a group of Haredi men refused to be seated next to women, and, ultimately, your staff accommodated these men by making women move. And you didn't even offer to upgrade them!This is an unconscionable action on the part of your airline, which is complicit in sex discrimination. Not only that, but it violates what your airline promised when you were sued by Renee Rabinowitz, who was likewise forced to move. Besides having to pay 6500 shekels, your airline, because it was found to violate Israeli anti-discrimination laws " agreed to never again ask a passenger to move seats based on a request that involved gender."Well, you did move seats based on a request that violates gender. The proper move on your part would have told the Haredim to either sit in their assigned seats or be kicked off the plane. Instead, you did your best to accommodate that sexist request, result in a flight delay of 1.25 hours. Do you not know how to call security to have people removed from a plane?I am appalled by the behavior of your airline and by the staff that allowed the Haredim to discriminate against women. I would like to know if you intend to do this again? Your response to Khen Rotem was a masterpiece of dissimulation, explaining that you try to "fulfill a variety of requests" and to "bring passengers to their destination according to schedule." No you don't; you broke the law and your own agreement, and enabled bias and discrimination against women. You should be ashamed of yourself.I would appreciate a response to this email.Yours sincerely,
The University of Chicago.
By all means write to the address above if you feel so inclined. I have a feeling that if many people write to El Al, they'll start taking this seriously. You are free to use my own email as a template.