Lufthansa kicks all “visible” Jews off flight after a handful of Orthodox violate the mask regulation

May 12, 2022 • 9:15 am

This is a particularly odious case of religious/ethnic discrimination (against Jews), made doubly odious because it’s from the German airline Lufthansa. It’s recounted in this article in the Washington Post, but you can find supplementary details elsewhere, like the Times of Israel. 

In short, a flight from New York to Budapest, with a layover in Frankfurt, was carrying a bunch of Jewish passengers. Some were Orthodox in their usual black regalia, others were dressed in street clothing. Some were traveling in a group and others independently.  The reason for the exodus: an annual memorial service to the grave of a “wonder-working rabbi,” Yeshayah Steiner (died 1925) in a Hungarian village.

An estimated 135-170 Jews were on the flight, 80% of whom wore Hasidic clothing. A few of the latter (just three were reprimanded by flight attendants) caused trouble by refusing to wear masks (required by Lufthansa) and praying in the aisle (see photo below). Needless to say, I think this religious stuff is nonsense, and those few who violated the regulations should have been sanctioned.

Instead, every visible Jew on the plane was punished, and by “visible” I mean those who wore Hasidic clothing (including the big majority who worse masks) and those who had Jewish names and wore other Jewish regalia, including yarmulkes (skullcaps). The punishment consisted on their being kicked off the connecting flight and banning them from all Lufthansa flights for 24 hours. Remember the vast majority of these people did nothing wrong—except be “visible Jews.”

After the plane arrived in Frankfurt, the trouble began, and was compounded by a meshugga Lufthansa gate agent (my emphasis):

Passengers who spoke with The Post said that when they arrived at their gate in Frankfurt, they noticed about two dozen police officers. The Federal Police at Frankfurt Airport said in an email that their presence was “preventative” and that no one was arrested from the original flight because the officers weren’t able to identify the travelers who flouted the rules. Lufthansa spokesman Tal Muscal said he does not know who made the decision to bar passengers from their connecting flight.

A video posted online by travel blog DansDeals captures the explanation a Lufthansa gate agent provided in an announcement when the flight departed without three-quarters of its passengers: “Due to an operational reason coming from the flight from New York, all passengers here, we have to cancel you on this flight,” the agent says. “You know why it was.”

Another video shared by DansDeals shows passenger Yitzy Halpern speaking with a Lufthansa employee in customer service. Halpern is wearing a dark long-sleeve polo shirt with a yarmulke, or skullcap, on his head.

“I was wearing a mask the whole time,” Halpern says in the video. “Why am I lumped in with them?”

“Everybody has to pay for a couple” who didn’t comply with mask rules, the unidentified Lufthansa representative says. “It was Jewish people who were the mess, who made the problems.”

Halpern, a 45-year-old from Long Island whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors, told the woman that picking out all Jews was “gruesome” and antisemitic.

“It would have been [the same] if you were African or Polander,” she says.

That last sentence doesn’t make it any better! Here’s the second video, which was originally on YouTube and then removed for (get this) violating “hate speech” regulations. It has since been restored. (Caption of video below: A video hared by DansDeals shows passenger Yitzy Halpern speaking with a Lufthansa employee in customer service. Video: DansDeals.)

Some passengers were called to the service desk one by one, and those who wore Hasidic clothing or other Jewish regalia were told they would not be on the connecting flight, and were in fact banned from the airline for 24 hours. (Many took trains and buses to Hungary, but were too late for the ceremony.) Only 20 passengers were allowed on the onward flight, in a plane that held 190. In other words, the vast majority of rule-compliant Jewish passengers were punished simply because they were identifiably Jewish, and could not get to their destination in time.

Is this anti-Semitism? I’m not going to bandy about accusations here, but the order to detain the Jewish passengers came from higher up, and the order that the passengers could not take the next flight out came from an airline captain. Whatever this is, it’s really bad optics for Lufthansa.

To their credit, Lufthansa has apologized, but of course it would have to given the copious photographic and video documentation:

Lufthansa released a statement Tuesday saying the flight ban should have been limited to noncompliant passengers. “We apologize to all the passengers unable to travel on this flight, not only for the inconvenience, but also for the offense caused and personal impact,” the statement said. The airline says it is “reviewing the facts and circumstances of that day” and “will be engaging with the affected passengers to better understand their concerns.”

“What transpired is not consistent with Lufthansa’s policies or values,” the statement said. “We have zero tolerance for racism, antisemitism and discrimination of any type.”

I wrote a tweet to Lufthansa telling them that I thought their staff’s behavior was shameful and they should apologize publicly in a major venue (like the NYT), as well as to the individual passengers, but I have not had a response from them.

Here are two photos of the Rumble in Frankfurt with captions, both from the Times of Israel (all quotes above are from the Washington Post):

(From ToI): Inside the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, Orthodox Jewish men pray in the back of the plane. (Courtesy via JTA)

Crikey! Look at those guns!

(From ToI): Jewish passengers who were kicked off a Lufthansa flight were greeted by the police once they arrived in Frankfurt. (Courtesy via JTA)

h/t: Winnie

31 thoughts on “Lufthansa kicks all “visible” Jews off flight after a handful of Orthodox violate the mask regulation

  1. The entire story is atrocious! The only lighter moment I had when reading it was when I encountered the wording “we have to cancel you on this flight”

    1. Only surprise is they did not strip every man to see if he was circumcised… (obvious signs…)

      This is a totally jobsworth degree of insensitivity. I bet the PR people at Lufthansa are tearing their hair out. Surely the staff have loads of training on dealing with difficult passengers? In recent restrictions in the UK when one bought a train ticket at a machine you had to press the acceptance that masks were to be worn – did Lufthansa not have that?

      You announce that only those wearing masks OVER THE NOSE & MOUTH will be carried, & then kick off those who refuse.

  2. The idiot with the mask off his nose – why was he not thrown off?!

    Absurd.

    It is like school punishment – you all suffer because one idiot called Fulbrook shouted “drop ’em Blossom!” out of the window to the lab assistant in the playground….

    1. I took a transoceanic flight last month; a lot of flight crews, airport staffers, and passengers are just giving the use of facemasks basic lip-service, and passengers are taking advantage of plausible deniability not to wear them. If I have a can of soda in my hand, I can be presumed to be drinking it, and am not required to wear a mask – even if the can has been in my hand for the last hour! People are skating by with the minimum effort now, and many airlines engage in minimal enforcement. Right now, we’re seeing some policy inertia combined with the fact that people widely believe that all remaining mask requirements will end shortly. I know the recent US ruling banning federal US mask requirements does not affect Lufthansa flights, but it is a clear signal of how things are changing.

      I’m not anti-mask. However, there is not sufficient reason to accuse unmasked and partially masked people in the photo of being idiots. I can think of legitimate reasons for them not to be wearing masks properly. The primary one is having recently recovered (several of my friends recovered in the past month), but there are others.

      1. Well in the UK the day of the mask is over. I do not miss it – I did however comply as I thought it the right thing to do.

  3. When Lufthansa started screening out “visible Jews,” the goyim on the flight should have had an “I am Spartacus” moment.

    Let the bastards fly an empty plane.

  4. Is this anti-Semitism?

    Of course it is.

    It would have been [the same] if you were African or Polander,

    Anti semitic and racist. They are not having a good day. I bet if if it had been three Germans refusing to mask up, thy wouldn’t have kicked all the Germans off the flight.

  5. Sort of a no-win situation here. Plenty of examples of orthodox men acting terribly on flights, this seems to be another. Plainly the individual offenders, unmasked, and disruptive passengers, couldn’t be identified. The flight crew would certainly have trouble singling out the nearly identically dressed and bearded men who were acting like schmucks. So they either let them off, basically tacitly allowing this behavior, or issue collective punishment. One approach sends the message that the behavior will go unsanctioned, the other looks very very bad. What to do?

      1. I agree, however, I fear in this instance it wasn’t so simple. The infractions clearly weren’t just a couple people not wearing masks, but a whole bunch of people blocking aisles and galleys on the aircraft in order to pray etc. So, since the issues apparently happened somewhere during the flight to Frankfurt, the flight crew would have had to individually identify the uncooperative people, then single them out and deny them boarding for their connection. Given the factors I noted in my original comment, no mean feat I fear. Like I said, I think this is a no-win situation.

        Punishing all the “Jews” for the actions of a few is clearly unjust. However, as mentioned, some ultra orthodox have made a habit of behaving badly on airplanes. Allowing the behavior to go unpunished sends the wrong message, as does a blanket sanctioning of “Jews”. No-win.

        1. Just to clarify – I’m Mack from the original comment – WordPress found my account and now follow-ups show my WP username. I’m not trying to make it appear like someone else is agreeing with me!

        2. I agree that the media can’t always (or perhaps even usually) be trusted to get the facts straight on a sensational story. Kind of like all the outlets that report or imply that Daunte Wright was killed by police simply because he had an air freshener hanging from his mirror while black. Doubtful.

          The story of a German airline kicking off all Jews just because a few wouldn’t wear a mask doesn’t pass the sniff test in this day and age. I will await more info, though I expect that as usual any exculpatory details won’t be reported with anywhere near the vigor as the original accusations…

  6. In a US airline, the company would now likely be figuring out how to settle the upcoming massive lawsuit for only a few million per plaintiff.

    Seems clearly discriminatory. But also, frustratingly, unnecessary. Stuff like this always leaves me asking why. Why do that, when you could’ve kicked off unmasked person 1, given unmasked person 2 a minute to think about it, kick 2 off if they continue to refuse, and then go on down the line – regardless of look or dress – until everyone on the plane is wearing a mask. It frankly seems a lot more effective and easier. It’s like they went out of their way to pick a solution that took them more resources, delayed their flight longer, created a bigger disruption for the other passengers, and wasn’t as effective.

    Bigotry and discrimination are sometimes used as proxies when you can’t detect the people or behavior you’re really interested in. But here, the trait you’re interested in is literally in front of your face; their mask. Using a proxy when you can’t use the actual trait is immoral, but at least makes a sort of sense. Using the proxy instead of the actual trait, when the actual trait is available, is immoral AND irrational.

  7. This story brought to mind two experiences in my life.
    1. Several years ago, I attended the bar mitzvah of the son of my wife’s sister. It was out west and there was a certain amount of mild, mirthful commentary directed my way, “Oh, wait until you meet the rabbi, Joe!” Etc. Well, when I did see the rabbi, it all became clear: We were dead ringers for each other.

    “Visibly Jewish indeed,” which brings me to…

    2. I once interviewed a Jewish scholar of religion on his editing a book about American Judaism. In the course of our chat he said, “Now, your people think that ‘Mc’ or ‘Mac’ in your name means “son of” in the tongue of your ancestors. But that’s not correct. It’s Hebrew, and it means “this person is absolutely a goy!”

  8. This is jaw dropping anti-Semitism! I predict Lufthansa will be paying handsomely for damage control consultants in addition to whatever gets litigated by the passengers. Her statement “it would have been the same if you were African or Polander” really lays bare the group sanctioning mind set.

    1. Jake: “What kind of bigotry do you usually have here?”
      Lufthansa: “Oh we got both kinds. We got religious AND racial.”

  9. If humans are still alive in a thousand years, I certainly hope they’re much more civilized, caring, understanding, accepting, and helpful towards one another. The atmosphere today is just so depressing.

  10. I’ve watched the videos in shock. This is just utterly appalling and what is worse they are Germans and they are really supposed to know about this. The comment in the video, “You’re grandparents would be proud of you,” actually made me laugh out loud because it was a stinging and witty rebuke against bigots.

    I would publicly sue. It is actually clear that they broke what would be anti-discrimination law here in the Uk and I am sure in Germany too. I would do it publicly with a big noise. And the response of the staff should have been to tell the ship’s captain to behave rather than back it up.

  11. Hesse’s anti-Semitism commissioner Uwe Becker called on Lufthansa’s top management to take a stand.

    [He] informed that obviously, solely because of their recognisable faith, a whole group of people had been held responsible for something that obviously only affected individual travellers. “This is discriminatory and not a trivial matter, and all the more reason why the company’s top management should also feel personally responsible to apologise for this incident and take a clear and unequivocal stand,” said Becker. He said he would be happy to make himself available to Lufthansa for talks. “Something like this must not happen again.”

    https://www.n-tv.de/panorama/Lufthansa-Offentliche-Entschuldigung-nach-Kollektivstrafe-fuer-juedische-Passagiere-article23323584.html

  12. Contrary to opinions here, you may work at Lufthansa without aryan blood and blue eyes. The flight attendant in the video sounded Eastern European, and as the flight went to Hungary, might be Hungarian.

    Further, the source is exactly 1 person, as cited as such in papers of record, like the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Der Spiegel. Further, we see this man making loaded statements to that (probably) Hungarian attendant, who gives her best “I understand, I’m so sorry routine”.

    Further, this immediately led to defcon 5. Contrary to beliefs here, making anti-semitic statements in Germaby is like shouting the n-word in Washington DC. You can’t do that, and if you did, heads will roll.

    <bLAt this point, I don’t buy the story. It looks much like non-compliant passengers who were removed from the flight, and afterwards worked it into an anti-semitism angle. We see what comes out if this.

  13. You’re dead wrong. The same story is reported in multiple venues, and by multiple people. Were they all colluding?. And remember that that is not the only Lufthansa person involved: there were higher ups, and a Lufthansa PILOT decided that the Jewish-looking people could not go on the next flight, either. Given that multiple Lufthansa people were involved, and that Lufthansa admitted what it did?

    Here’s what Lufthansa said:

    “The reasoning for the decision was based upon various instances of non-compliance by numerous guests with mask requirements and crew-safety instructions on the previous flight LH401 from New York to Frankfurt,” airline spokesperson Tal Muscal told CNN in a statement. “Lufthansa regrets the circumstances surrounding the decision to exclude the affected passengers from the flight, for which Lufthansa sincerely apologizes.”

    “What transpired is not consistent with Lufthansa’s policies or values. We have zero tolerance for racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination of any type,” Muscal said. “While Lufthansa is still reviewing the facts and circumstances of that day, we regret that the large group was denied boarding rather than limiting it to the non-compliant guests.”

    Do you still think the whole story is made up by 100 Jews in collusion? Shame on you!

    1. Jerry, papers of record DID report on this, as I wrote, but the source of the assertions was — according to two news articles I read one passenger. I do not know what you mean by collusion. The articles did not cite any other passenger. All of the articles seem based on a FAZ article (the FAZ is sort of a german NYT) mentioning that one person.

      Here is the passage I read from the Sueddeutsche, translated by me: “The FAZ wrote, citing one passenger from the flight from New York, all passengers who could be identified as orthodox Jews due to their [attire] were excluded from further flights”

      Lufthansa does not corroborate that all Jews, regardless of compliance, were excluded. I find it hard to believe. It may be supported by other evidence other than one guy with a phone and an agenda. It just implausible to me right now.

      Here is the source:
      _sueddeutsche.de/politik/lufthansa-antisemitismus-1.5582461

      1. This is our last exchange about this. Do you want to explain why other passengers in the Washington Post story corroborated the ban? Can you explain WHY Lufthansa by its own admission kept dozens of passengers from proceedings onwards. Why Lufthansa apologized for punishing passengers who had committed no transgression on the flight? I am not sure what kind of conspiracy theory of scenario you are painting here, but saying this is all due to one person’s report is a. wrong, and b. according to the reports, crazy. Note that the Washington Post gives reports from TRAVELERS, certainly more than the one man filmed.

        Do not bother to respond; I am not going to get into a further argument about this; people can read for themselves and decide whether your contention that this is a bogus report based on one man’s statement holds water. .

  14. Masks I couldn’t care less about, although I understand Lufthansa has to comply with German and E.U. law and I will always cooperate with flight crew. Air travel will totally break down if passengers get the idea that compliance is somehow optional with an air captain‘s instructions for the safety of the aircraft, and that includes keeping order in the air. The sooner masks are gone, the better. In airplanes they must surely be doing more harm, like this case, than good.

    I’m more worried about the praying.

    To help with my understanding, I ask: is praying by ultra-observant people of any faith sufficiently obstructive or disruptive on a commercial airliner that it interferes with the ability of the cabin crew to look after the passengers (who paid for their tickets too), or the ability of the other passengers to get to the bathrooms or to the sections of galleys that are open to passengers for snacking on long-haul flights? I have never seen anyone praying visibly or ostentatiously or obstructively on an airplane so I honestly don’t know how to interpret what was said to be happening here.

    I do know that “public” space in an airplane is extremely tight, especially in coach on long flights. If you are out of your seat for any reason, you have to be always conscious that someone else, passenger or crew, may need to get by you and you have to bend over backward (sometimes literally) to be a good citizen. You also need to be aware that someone else may very shortly need the space you are currently in so your occupancy of that space needs to be brief. No you cannot lie on the galley floor to do your 20-minute yoga routine to prevent blood clots. Tense your calf muscles periodically like everyone else does. And no the captain is not going to change the plane’s heading so you can face Mecca when you pray. I’m both short and thin. I don’t take up much space. And I really really try to take up less when I fly. (I won’t let the 250-pounder next to me put up the armrest, though, unless he pays me a third of my ticket.)

    So I would intensely, viscerally resent anyone who occupied the aisle or galley for even a few minutes just to pray, especially in a manner that implied I wasn’t allowed to squeeze by him to go for a pee until he was finished praying. I don’t care how important prayer is for him. My access to the space I paid to use is important to me. The fact that someone is devout and “needs” to pray cuts no ice with me. So to judge, I really need to know what that praying looked like. The men shown praying in the photo don’t look very disruptive.

    If this story is less about masks and more about an aggressively entitled identifiable group (identified by dress, whether it was religious costume or Toronto Maple Leafs hockey jerseys and blue-painted faces) that continually disrupted a long flight in coach to the annoyance of other passengers and the frustration of cabin crew, my sympathies are tilting in favour of the Lufthansa captain who didn’t want to board that group for the connecting flight. Unruly passengers will not be carried. Now, whom to include in the “group” to be denied boarding becomes tricky. In the circumstances of this flight, the Hasidic dress might do it. Yarmulke? Jewish-sounding surname? Tougher. Identified non-mask wearer? Definitely because ostentatious non-compliance is a threat to the order and therefore safety of the aircraft. If some non-mask wearers or disruptive pray-ers were not wearing Hasidic dress but known only to have been seated with the group and not individually identifiable, obviously no one is going to be satisfied.

    Let’s hear what the harried front-line staff (including the air captain whose call it was) have to say before we lawyer up and start suing vicariously. We won’t hear their side because the company will try to damage control; loose-cannon stories from employees are rarely on message. We can hope that the crew are at least listened to internally, as the company says it will do.

    As for the guns, police and paramilitary gendarmes at airports all over Europe carry automatic weapons whenever they make an appearance. You see them patrolling groundside armed like that. Nothing special.

  15. I tend to be pretty skeptical of stories where “X made claims that they were discriminated against” when they were removed from the airplane, bus, entertainment venue, or whatever. Often there is more to the story.
    Reading about this case from multiple sources, it sounds like the airline staff yielded to pretty ugly impulses. I am not going to assume that it is a general view at the airline that some or all flights should be Judenfrei. I am going to choose to believe that one or two staff members got frustrated with a few passengers, and reacted with no regard to professionalism, and perhaps enjoying their authority a bit too much. Then others backed up the first team member, and lost sight of the larger consequences of the situation.
    If someone posts video of large numbers of the Heredi being disruptive on the flight, to the point of endangering others, then I will be happy to revise my view.

    Beyond that, the mask requirement is mostly performative anyway. There seem to be a lot of cases where, at public events, people of high status are waited upon by a masked servant class. That makes no more sense medically than judging whether gatherings are high or low risk depending on the politics of the participants, or the political influence of the organizer of the event.

  16. > I’m more worried about the praying.

    Some larger planes have prayer sections (remove 5-10 central rows and curtain them off). However, in airplanes that don’t have that amenity, even pre-pandemic, airlines explicitly asked their devout passengers to pray from their seats. There were even in-flight instructional videos about in-flight prayer. There are major exemptions from religious rules for people while travelling; the first Saudi astronaut was told that he did not have to pray five times every 90-minute orbit around the Earth. I have flown on airlines from extremely conservative Muslim theocracies (don’t ask). Even theocratic airlines are pragmatic; unfortunately, when the devout get on a secular airline that does not get explicit about best practice out of fear of offending the faithful, you end up with cases where individuals make their own rules.

    Again, I’m not defending either party here. There is no call to punish entire groups, and there is no call to violate basic rules about congregating in an airplane.

    1. Thanks. That was helpful. As I said, I have never been inconvenienced by any pray-ers and I would not readily imagine that the prayer on this flight was disruptive. But if it was disruptive, it would be an issue that the air captain must address.

      We flew home to Toronto from LaGuardia New York on a small (secular) turboprop not long after 9/11. Six or so young men in Hasidic dress were in the security line (on our flight as it turned out.) As he was cleared, the man just in front of us thanked the TSA man warmly for working to keep us safe. The TSA man grunted at first, then smiled broadly and nodded when he realized there was no snark whatever in the young man’s voice. I have no idea if the men prayed during the short flight; it never occurred to me until now that they might have. So I’m not quick to buy the story of a mass outbreak of disruptive prayer over the North Atlantic.

  17. “It was Jewish people who were the mess, who made the problem…” therefore…X. Has a certain interesting historical echo in Germany.
    My initial thought was antisemitism but other comments help make me wonder if there may be a bit more context to consider.

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