An 81-year-old attorney who was forced to move seats because an Orthodox Jewish man objected to sitting next to her is suing the Israeli airline El Al. Renee Rabinowitz, backed by an left-leaning religious advocacy group, is accusing the airline of illegal discrimination against her.
Rabinowitz, who emigrated from the United States to Israel a decade ago and now lives in Jerusalem, told the New York Times that a flight attendant asked her to move on a December flight from Newark to Tel Aviv, so that her seatmate, a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) man in his 50s, wouldn’t have to sit beside her.
“Despite all my accomplishments—and my age is also an accomplishment—I felt minimized,” she told the paper. She fled Nazi-occupied Belgium as a child and grew up fairly observant, although not Haredi, in New York: both of her husbands were rabbis.
Flight delays on El Al are growing more and more common as a result of male Orthodox passengers who refuse to sit next to women, believing that even glancing or inadvertent physical contact with non-relatives of the opposite sex is forbidden.
But the issue for the Israel Religious Action Center, an advocacy group for progressive Jews in Israel, is that El Al employees are acquiescing to their demands. IRAC argues that forcing secular passengers to move is discriminatory; they’ve been actively looking to sue El Al for several years and are now backing Rabinowitz’s lawsuit, using her as a test case.
El Al told the Times in a statement that “discrimination between passengers is strictly prohibited,” and that their goal is to get planes off the ground on time while meeting passengers’ “different and varied requests.”
El Al planes parked at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. Photo via AP Images