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Israeli authorities block adverts urging female airline passengers not to move seats for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men

Campaign follows court ruling in favour of Holocaust survivor asked to switch because man did not want to sit next to her

Chris Baynes
Wednesday 04 April 2018 21:55 BST
 El Al planes on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International airport
El Al planes on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International airport

Israeli authorities have refused to display adverts informing female airline passengers they are not obliged to change seats at the request of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who do not want to sit next to them.

The Israeli Religious Action Centre (IRAC) had hoped to run a billboard campaign at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv during the Jewish holiday Passover.

The campaign follows a court ruling last year in favour of Renee Rabinowitz, an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor who was asked by El Al cabin crew to move after a strictly Orthodox Jewish male passenger refused to be seated next to her on one of the company’s flights.

Some ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jewish men say their religion’s modesty laws forbid them from sitting beside any woman who is not their wife.

Ms Rabinowitz complied with the request but later launched legal action against the airline with the support of the IRAC, which campaigns against gender discrimination and segregation.

A judge ruled in June that “under absolutely no circumstances can a crew member ask a passenger to move from their designated seat because the adjacent passenger doesn’t want to sit next to them due to their gender”.

She ordered El Al, which is Israel's flag carrier, to clarify its policies, train staff, and pay Ms Rabinowitz compensation.

However, the IRAC said it believed female passengers were still being discriminated against since the ruling.

It wanted to display adverts that read: “Ladies, please take your seat … and keep it!”

The adverts reminded cabin crews that “requiring a passenger to switch seats because of their gender is illegal” and advised passengers that “a flight attendant may not force you to switch seats to avoid mixed seating”.

A still from a video released by the Israel Religious Action Centre urging women to refuse to give up their seats (Israel Religious Action Centre)

The organisation also released a video earlier this month urging women to refuse to give up their seats.

It said it had reached an agreement with the Israel Airports Authority (IAA) on the price of running the billboard adverts during the busy travel season of Passover, which ends on Saturday.

“But suddenly, they notify us that they’re not approving it,” IRAC director Noa Sattath told Haaretz.

The IAA said it would not run “any advertising that is political or divisive”.

“For the same reason, we would reject billboards by the Islamic Movement and Yad l’Achim,” said spokesman Ofer Leffler, referring to a Haredi anti-assimilation group.

The IRAC had also planned to display the adverts at New Jersey’s Newark International Airport, which is used by high numbers of ultra-Orthodox Jewish passengers. But it decided to focus on Ben Gurion due to costs.

“It makes much more sense to do this in Israel, which is where the main problem is,” said Ms Sattath.

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