El Al faces suit after ultra-Orthodox seat swap request to woman

An Israeli rights group Sunday said it will sue El Al, after the Israeli airline asked a woman to switch seats because an ultra-Orthodox man did not want to sit next to her.

Renee Rabinowitz, an 81-year-old Holocaust survivor, was asked by a flight attendant to give up her aisle seat in the business class section on El Al Flight 028 from Newark to Tel Aviv in December and move to a "better" seat further up front and closer to first class.

That was after an ultra-Orthodox passenger refused to sit next to her because strict Jewish law forbids any contact between unmarried men and women.

The Israel Religious Action Center, which, among others causes, fights for gender equality in Israeli society, said it would file a 50,000-shekel (13,000-dollar) lawsuit against El Al on behalf of Rabinowtiz.

"The goal is not money," said spokeswoman Yuly Goren. Instead the goal was a precedent-seeking principle, "that women not be made to get up because ultra-Orthodox men don't want to sit next to them."

If an ultra-Orthodox male passenger has a problem sitting next to a woman, he should be the one to get up, she said.

There has been a growing number of incidents on El Al flights in which ultra-Orthodox men refuse to sit next to women. The NGO had been waiting for a case in which a flight attendant was clearly involved in such a request in order to be able to sue to airline.

The NGO has in the past also fought Israeli bus companies and the Transportation Ministry for gender segregation on so-called kosher lines in, to and from ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods.

El Al said in a reaction that it was a service provider, trying to grant the wishes and requests of all passengers.

"Ms Renee Rabinowitz was asked, politely and sensitively, whether she was willing to move from her seat to another," it said.

"It was made clear to her that she was not obligated to move to the other seat and that if she was interested in remaining in her current seat, that was her full right."

The elderly woman had not objected to the request and she had not been forced to move seats, it said.

Last update: Sun, 28/02/2016 - 15:04
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