Israeli airports won’t tell women that they don’t have to change seats at the request of ultra-Orthodox Jews

April 7, 2018 • 1:30 pm

People might be surprised to find that, although Israel is seen as a “Jewish state,” how secular it really is. As Phil Zuckerman notes in the article I mentioned the other day:

The only nation of secular significance in the Middle East is Israel; 37 percent of Israelis are atheist or agnostic (Kedem 1995) and 75 percent of Israelis define themselves as ‘‘not religious’’ or having a ‘‘non-religious orientation.’’ (Dashefsky et al. 2003).

That’s a lot more secular than the U.S., but not a surprise to many Jews. As the old joke goes, “What do you call a Jew who doesn’t believe in God?” Answer: “A Jew.”  But Israel still caters to its Orthodox minority, even when simple decency says that it shouldn’t.

A case in point, documented by both The Guardian and Newsweek, involves a subject I’ve written about before: ultra-Orthodox (“Haredi”) Jews refusing to sit by women, and airlines trying to accommodate these religionists by moving the women. (See my posts here, here, here, here, and here.)  In the most recent case, documented in the last two links, 82 year old Renee Rabinowitz—a Holocaust survivor—sued El Al for making her move, and won a $14,000 court judgment with the help of the Israeli Religious Action Center (IRAC), the Israeli equivalent of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. That judgment also prohibited gender discrimination in seating.

But recently the IRAC wanted to put up ads at Ben Gurion airport, near Tel Aviv, letting women know that they had the legal right to keep their seats despite the complaints of bigoted religionists. (The ruling against gender discrimination in seating applies to both buses and planes, by decree of the Israeli supreme court.) Sadly, the airport refused, which is tantamount to refuse to inform women of their legal rights.  The Israeli airport authority banned the ads as being “politically divisive.”

Here’s the ad that was banned:

Well, it’s not at all politically divisive. It may be religiously divisive, but I think most of us agree that where religious dictum conflicts with civil rights, the latter must win. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. I hope the airports reconsider, as their refusal to tell women of their rights allows religious sentiments to trump civil liberties.

IRAC also had a campaign video, which I’ve embedded below. The narrator turns into Woody Allen at about 1:20:

h/t: József

45 thoughts on “Israeli airports won’t tell women that they don’t have to change seats at the request of ultra-Orthodox Jews

  1. I am not surprised. The airport wants to comply when it must, but mostly ignore the issue and hope it goes away. Which it won’t, of course.

  2. Why do the majority of Israelis tolerate the ultra-Orthodox refusing to work, preferring “Torah study”, and then living off benefits? They’re also exempt from military service and have other privileges.

    Is this one of the drawbacks of proportional representation, giving too much power to fringe parties, as opposed to first past the post?

    1. The answer to that is yes. Despite that fact, there are many in the US who propose that we institute a proportional representation system here. Such a system is worse then the current system, as bad as the latter is.

      1. I totally disagree, having lived under FPP and PR. FPP can also be hijacked by extremist minorities – all the minority has to do is control enough of a voting bloc to swing the next election, and this can be even easier to do with ‘winner-takes-all’ constituencies, where a minor percentage change in the overall vote can lead to a big swing in number of seats, or even (as we all know) to a party ‘winning’ with less votes than the opposition.

        Which is why we (in New Zealand) eventually got so sick of our two-party FPP system that we dumped it by referendum despite entrenched opposition from political parties and big business.

        But neither system is immune to being corrupted by a well-organised single-issue pressure group like the Haredim or the NRA.


        1. When I say ‘dumped it’ I mean, changed to proportional representation – which almost automatically changes the two-party duopoly to a multi-party system.


        2. One note I’d make, as a fellow Kiwi, is that our system isn’t purist PR, but Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP), with a 5%/1 electorate seat threshold, which perhaps acts as some degree of a brake on ‘the tail wagging the dog’ by smaller parties.

          A major reason why Israel gives so many benefits to the Ultra-Orthodox is that their major parties very frequently need the votes of the small (generally Ultra-Orthodox) religious parties to form a ruling coalition.

          1. Note that the threshold in Israel is 3.25%. The problem in the US is the Gerrymandering of congressional districts by the party controlling the legislature at the time of redistricting.

            Possibly a mixture as they have in Germany where 1/2 the Bundestag is elected by party lists and 1/2 is elected in single member districts

      2. Hmm, the US system let an idiot become president despite polling fewer votes than his main rival. The US system gives the same power in the senate to Rhode Island (pop. 1.06 million) as California (pop. 39.54 million). How does a democracy justify oneperson’t vote having 39 times the influence of another’s?

        Another egregious example: in our 2015 general election,, UKIP (an odious party) got one seat from 12.6% of the vote whereas the SNP got 56 seats from 8.6% of the vote.

        Now, I find the UKIP to be an odious party that has done its part to wreck my country. However, if you pretend to have a democracy, all qualified voters should really have an equal say. If you design the system to suppress some parties, you are denying their supporters their democratic rights. It’s analogous to the free speech issue. Free speech only for the people who agree with you is not free speech. Democracy only for the people who vote for sensible parties is not democracy.

        1. Couldn’t agree more. We have the same issues in Canada where a gov’t can achieve a substantial majority with less than 40% of the votes.

  3. I wonder, what did she win? Money? Free luggage? Free drinks for life? What can they give you for kicking you out of your seat based on a religious order? The correct handling would be to sue the airline for not posting a sign. WARNING When someone asks you to give up your seat, you can and should refuse.

    1. I wonder, what did she win? Money? Free luggage? Free drinks for life? What can they give you for kicking you out of your seat based on a religious order?

      Fourteen kilobucks. Whether that is an acceptable price is a matter for debate. It would be nice if she’d funded the adverts or included a clause allowing their posting in perpetuity into the agreement with the airline. But that is a boat that has sailed – at least until the next such lawsuit.

      The correct handling would be to sue the airline for not posting a sign.

      Another tactic for the next such case. Potentially interesting tactic.
      What was passing through my mind was a variant on the “I’m Spartacus” ploy – with the (anatomically) male passenger that the bigot is re-seated next to waiting until the deal is almost done before informing bigot and cabin staff that they are actually a pre-operative male to female transexual, and would that cause the bigot any religious issues.
      The plan being, of course, to keep the bigot seat-hopping until the cabin crew do what they should have done first off and tell the fucker to take his assigned seat or consider his ticket void and get off the plane.

  4. While I obviously support the right of women to sit where they please, I do understand the airport not wanting to take a side in the debate (or even appear to). Any kind of public facility wants to avoid losing either side as customers. Of course, refusing the ads also makes a statement but they took that as the best way out of a no-win situation. Their policy of not taking divisive ads helps them in this regard.

  5. Ridiculous. I’m usually the first one to switch seats with another passenger on a plane for any reason, with nary a question asked, since once I stick my nose in a book I lose all track of where I am. But for this? Keyn!

    (Is that the right word?)

      1. I know it is about posters. In aircraft today, flight attendants are not to be messed with, and they can easily intimidate passengers. So passengers should be informed of their rights. If attendants were required to tell passengers of their right of refusal upon any request to move, the posters would be unnecessary.

    1. From a PR point of view the two things are significantly different on the divisiveness scale. This is because one sort of incident happens from time-to-time in the confines of a plane. The other involves large scale communication to the wider public.

      (This is not to be interpreted as a defense of the policy.)

  6. Why not just designate the last 4 rows as gender-segregated?? Women who buy a ticket there can expect segregation. Orthodox who buy a ticket elsewhere will have to sit next to women if they bought a ticket.

    (And why isn’t the most conservative sect designated as OrthoPrax?)

    1. The reason is because they want to hand those seats to regular customers with the idea of forcing them to pay $40-80 extra to move forward. Your proposition would guarantee rear-seat people some desired benefit, reducing revenue.

      From the airline perspective, it’s better to foment competition for specific seats, getting people to pay more than the ticket price to simply fly. Frankly I’m surprised they haven’t started offering anti-women insurance to orthodox fliers. Pay $50 now, and when you demand to switch seats, we’ll give the woman a $20 gift certificate to sweeten the deal!

  7. Unsurprisingly, bringing up the prospect of unpleasant confrontations on the plane isn’t top priority for the Ben Gurion airport.

    What probably would be best is if the airlines would be liable for any bullying of any woman who protests giving up her seat. I don’t mean that it would be impermissible for anyone to say, “Why not just take another seat?” (annoying as that would be), but that any sort of persistent pressure–especially group pressure–to do so would have to be prevented. If they have to pay for allowing harassment, they’ll soon stop it.

    Glen Davidson

    1. Airlines generally charge extra for block-booking of seats together in a party. So, if the bigot hasn’t paid for such a premium service, they’re voiding the terms of their ticket. There’s the door. Leave.

        1. Parachutes would be unhelpful – you’d have hit the apron before the chute deployed.
          We’re talking about a problem while the plane is loading. Not before roll-back.

            1. Bad jokes don’t start out that way, usually. Hindsight often leads to an “ouch” moment. Zuckerberg is implementing an “unsend” feature for Facebook to minimize such regretable moments. And I sometimes think that Professor Ceiling Cat disdains a preview button for commenters on this blog to encourage a bit more thought before clicking on the post-comment button.

              “The Moving Finger clicks; and, having click’d,
              Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor half thy Wit
              Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
              Nor all thy Tears wash out a pixel of it.”

              Kehlog Albran, author of The Profit, might have written that version.

            1. Roll back doesn’t happen (here) until the “fasten seat belts” light has been activated, and that should be accompanied by comms chatter indicating that the cabin crew have finished settling the passengers. It doesn’t mean that everyone has sat down, but they should do so on instruction from the cabin crew after that.

        2. Well, I got the joke.

          Hey darwinwins, if I hover over your avatar I see “Atheist, [mumble mumble] fan of WEIT. Oh yes, I am definitely in favour of a wall…”

          Only if I click on ‘View Complete Profile’ do I see the words “… between church and state”.

          Did you mean the cliffhanger to be intentional?


  8. It’s the hat. That is what makes it divisive. Imagine an ad that says you can request a seat change. One shows two empty seats. No offense. Now imagine one seat has a yarmulke on it. Offensive, right? Same principle.

  9. The answer is very simple. The passenger who refuses to take his assigned seat because it is next to a woman should be told to sit down, fasten seat belt and shut the f**k up. If he declines, he should be ordered to leave the plane and, if he refuses, he should be forcibly removed by security personnel. His fare should not, under any circumstances, be refunded.

    Sometimes the only thing that schmucks like this understand is a few bruises.

  10. I’d be in two minds about such a request (not that I, as a male, would be faced with this specific one). Refusing to move would be a Pyrrhic victory in that I’d be stuck with sitting next to the wanker for the duration of the flight.


    1. The problem is that you have to relocate to somewhere, so there is always someone else who will be asked to leave his/her seat on a full plane.

  11. Of course, in a theocracy, religion and politics are the same – and the ultraorthodox etc. no doubt (some of them at any rate) want Israel to become more theocratic.

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