Orthodox Jewish Students Kicked Off Plane for Not Turning Off Phones Now Claim Religious Discrimination

A bunch of students from an Orthodox Jewish school in Brooklyn got on a flight, refused to turn off their phones (an annoying rule, yes, but still a rule), and then got kicked off the plane. They took to Twitter to voice their complaints:

“BIG SCANDAL!” one wrote in Twitter messages to several news organizations, echoing the view of many of the students that they had done nothing wrong.

“Didnt think you’d ever get kicked off a plane? Well it’s possible,” another, Rebecca Rahmey, wrote on Twitter. Asked why by an acquaintance, she replied, “no reason.”

Katie McDonald, a spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines, AirTran’s parent company, said the flight’s crew had ejected the group out of concern for the “overall safety” of the flight. She said the students had violated flight policies and federal air regulations, ultimately delaying the flight by about an hour.

That alone is a story of annoying kids thinking they’re above the law.

But then they started claiming this was done because of their religion, which took the whining to an entirely different — and totally ridiculous — level:

Several students have suggested that the crew acted out of anti-Semitism.

“They treated us like terrorists; I’ve never seen anything like it,” one student, Jonathan Zehavi, told CNN. “I think if it was a group of nonreligious kids, the air stewardess wouldn’t have dared to kick them off.”

No, they treated you like the treated everybody else. If the flight crew didn’t make you turn off your phones, it’s their ass that would be on the line. It’s not Southwest’s fault if you’re not used to being on a plane. The security check wasn’t done out of anti-Semitism either.

And since when do non-religious students get the tall end of the stick?! I’m not used to hearing that one: If we were atheists, they would have treated us better!

Somewhere, Muslims are rolling their eyes at all of this.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-los-angeles/hugh-kramer Hugh Kramer

    What these Orthodox students demonstrated was their own contempt for the rules, not to mention the thinking, of anyone outside their own closed group. It must be wonderful to feel you or your group is always right and anything coming from anyone else is, ipso facto, always wrong. Wonderful… and dangerous.

    • Lee Miller

      That is exactly the viewpoint of anyone who is in an exclusivist religious group, whether it’s Christian fundamentalism, orthodox judaism, Islam, or Religion X. “We are right, therefore everyone else is wrong.” “We are the chosen ones, everyone else is worthless.”

      • Oranje

        Religion X sounds like something nefarious from the Powerpuff Girls.

        • Hat Stealer

          Made of crosses, nails, puppy dog tails.

          • Danielle Crawford

            So like Catholicism, then?

    • JET

      What these TEENAGERS demonstrated was their own contempt for the rules. Trying to blame the airlines by screaming religious persecution is their way of claiming that they never did anything wrong. “It wasn’t my fault” is the mantra of teenagers throughout the world.

      • skinnercitycyclist

        Sounds like this story hit close to home, Jet….TEENAGERS! I am a high school teacher myself….;-)

  • ortcutt

    “After students refused to sit down and shut off their cellphones, flight
    attendants said, the AirTran crew ordered them and their chaperones off
    the plane, prompting the teenagers to turn to social media in vigorous

    Religious privilege means never having to follow the rules.

    • JET

      They are certainly claiming religious persecution because… well, why not. From the point of view of the airline crew, it was simply a matter of their not sitting down and shutting off their damn phones as the rules required.

      • Puzzled

        I’d say because that’s what they see their parents do constantly.

  • Aguz

    It doesn’t matter who you are, you should turn off your phone in the plane. I’m pretty sure you’ll survive some hours without it.

    • Timothy R Alexander

      And really from what I understand its only during take off and landing. when your in the air you can turn them back on, so its for like 5 minutes tops. at least thats what I remember from my last flight which was….may of last year I think.

  • JET

    Having travelled cross-country with a large group of teenagers several times, I can absolutely attest that they can be assholes. It has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with being cocky little jerks. I fault their adult advisors for not being able to adequately control them.

    • Pseudonym

      Speaking as the parent of a teenager, I don’t necessarily fault their advisors for not being able to adequately control them. Trying to get one teenager to stop acting like an arsehole in public is bad enough. I can only imagine being in charge of a group.

  • jdm8

    If you’re uppity for _any_ reason, and don’t cooperate with the crew, they do have cause to have you removed. It doesn’t matter what you look like, it does matter a lot on how you behave.

  • Erin W

    Alec Baldwin has a few words for them.

    • Miss_Beara

      They are Anti Baldwinites,

  • Lee Miller

    Where is the responsible religious authority for this group, who should be speaking up now to clarify that what the kids are saying is nonsense, that they were ill-mannered little jerks, and the Yeshiva is profoundly apologetic for the trouble they caused for the airline and other passengers.

    • JET

      I would hope that the adults come forward and admit that their little darlings were misbehaving. If they don’t, they are being bigger jerks than the kids.

      • Randay

        No chance. Orthodox Jews are more close minded than mainstream Christians. Ultra-Orthodox Jews are more close mined that extreme Christian evangelists.

    • Max Exter

      Assuming this was a Saturday (Shabbat), then the justification is that they aren’t allowed to turn on or off anything as it is construed as working. A couple of problems with this argument, however. They could theoretically ask a gentile (say another passenger or the steward(ess)) to do it for them. And further, they shouldn’t have had it on them anyway, so they were already disobeying a commandment.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        They wouldn’t be flying on Shabbat. The plane itself burns fuel (lighting a fire); Orthodox Jews won’t drive or be driven on Shabbat because it breaks that rule, so they definitely wouldn’t be flying on Shabbat. My sister always flies on Thursdays and Sundays for that very reason.

        • The Other Weirdo

          But they will ride an elevator so long as it’s set to always stop on every floor automatically and be in motion otherwise.

          • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

            Yeah, but that’s different, because automation. Or something. I’m not Orthodox in large part because the rules don’t make any sense to me!

            Well, and the whole God thing stopped making any sense either. But there was a time I looked into becoming more religious and I just couldn’t justify it to myself.

            • Puzzled

              It’s been said that rabbis had to struggle valiantly to figure out how to ban riding trains on shabbat – they know they needed to, but found it hard to articulate a way that it violated the law if the crew wasn’t Jewish. However, in both cases, it seems the auxiliary actions involved would actually be banned – buying the ticket, security, etc.

              I also once heard a sermon about Sandy Kofax and Yom Kippur wherein the rabbi argued that he’d have been better off. religiously, had he slept at the stadium, pitched, and not eaten, than with what he likely did – stayed home, then drove to shul.

        • Puzzled

          Just put on your seatbelt, then you’re wearing the plane and it’s ok.

        • Conuly

          Plus, and somewhat more pertinently I should think, you aren’t allowed to travel great distances on Sabbath if you’re an observant Jew, are you?

          • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

            I’m not sure. It’s hard to get very far if you have to walk there, though- animals get a rest too, and combustion engines are verboten.

            I think there is something about not leaving the home/community, which is why the Orthodox put up the string that marks the community so people can walk around within it, but I am definitely shaky on how those specific rules work.

        • Max Exter

          While the operation of a motor vehicle clearly violates Shabbat laws, another question is if it is permissible to ride as a passenger in a vehicle driven by a gentile during Shabbat.

          Some Orthodox rabbis have ruled that besides the appearance being given, since a passenger being present in a vehicle may cause the vehicle to require additional fuel versus the absence of that passenger, this practice is generally not permitted. However, it may be permissible if a Jew has a medical reason to be transported in a vehicle that is short of life-threatening.


          So there are some loopholes, depending on exactly how orthodox you go. So if life-threatening contingencies exist, then surely the act of flinging virtual poultry with the intent of destroying virtual porcine would be ok, assuming that during takeoff was the only possible time to stop them.

          It’s probably much harder if you’re a Kohen, though.

      • cipher

        They wouldn’t have been on a plane on Shabbat.

        Update: Feminerd beat me to it!

    • http://benny-cemoli.myopenid.com/ Benny Cemoli

      A “responsible” religious authority has clarified the situation and has exonerated the spoiled brats behavior by claiming that there was no reason to remove them from the plane.

      “We take this matter seriously and have started our own investigation,”
      said a statement released Tuesday by Rabbi Seth Linfield, executive
      director of the Yeshiva of Flatbush school. “Preliminarily, it does not
      appear that the action taken by the flight crew was justified.”

      Hey Rabbi Enabler. You’re part of the trained flight crew that can make that determination as to what is and what isn’t justified? I don’t think so.

      • peggy

        Has anyone seen the picture of the brats when they were kicked off? they are all laughing and using hand jesters. It looked as though they were proud of themselfs. This Rabbi should not condone this behavior. Thank you Benny you said it all……….

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    “Preliminarily, it does not appear that the action taken by the flight crew was justified,” he said.”

    BS, if you refuse to sit down in your seat and refuse to turn off your cell phone then they have every right to remove them from the flight. The flight crew does have every right to remove you from the flight if you are not obeying rules or if they think you are a risk.

    Antisemitism had nothing to do with this issue. If you disobey you can be kicked off. You can claim it was because of your religion, but it was not. It is because you are inconsiderate assholes that don’t mind you delayed people by an hour.

  • earcatching

    Were all hundred of them playing with their phones? Is this effectively a group punishment?

    • JET

      When you are an adult supervising a large group of teenagers, you must keep the entire group together and supervised. If one or two students violated the rules and were kicked off, the adults had to go with them. And if the adults left the plane, the other students had to leave the plane as well. You cannot leave any of them unsupervised.

      • earcatching

        Yeah, I can see how there might be a reasonable response to the question, but if (say) 20 of the group were misbehaving, then they only need two or three adults to go with them. The rest of the adults & kids could stay. But I have no experience of being responsible for teenagers, so perhaps I’m oversimplifying!

        • JET

          That would actually work, but it becomes a logistical nightmare when the group gets split up. You have to sort luggage, money, permission slips, health forms, meds… It takes a lot of time and is not worth the hassle.

          • earcatching

            Ah, ok. Yep, that makes sense. Thanks!

  • compl3x

    Anti-Semitism is a serious thing, it is disturbing to see it being used in such a trivial way.

    • Randay

      Anti-semitism doesn’t exist today in an organized manner except for interest groups like ADL and AIPAC. And they don’t care about Americans, even American Jews, only about Israel. So anyone who makes the statement I just made is an “anti-semite” for them. It means, “Thou shalt not criticize Israel”.

  • decathelite

    Another student in the group, Michael Mamiye, said he was one of the first to be kicked off the plane. He said a flight attendant did not give him a chance to turn off his cell phone before asking him to “get off the plane.”

    You see the stewardess and captain asked the group to turn off their cell phones. However no one asked Michael specifically to shut his off. How was Michael to know that the rules applied to him if he wasn’t personally told?!!?

    • Artor

      There’s nothing in the Talmud about turning off phones, so why would he assume the rule applied to him?

  • Space Cadet

    CNN got some comments from a passenger on the fight:

    “The pilot warned them. They did not comply. They thought it was a joke. You know, it wasn’t a joke,” Rinschler said.

    Rinschler didn’t witness any anti-Semitic events. “Absolutely not,” he
    said. “There was not one ethnic slur from anyone on the flight crew or
    anyone who was inconvenienced for two hours.

    There’s more info from his perspective in the article.


  • Ray

    … and the Twitter feed is now private.

  • captainthecapn

    I don’t know much of the students side of the story, but dude- Southwest Airlines DOES have a history of being douchebags to people.

    • stop2wonder

      As long as they are equal opportunity douchebags there’s nothing wrong with it. If their douchebaggery crosses a certain threshold though, you can always use another airline.

  • Christopher Salihe Payne

    Wow, the “criticizing Jews over anything makes you antisemitic” thing is really getting out of hand. What’s next, a Jewish person runs a red light and then cries antisemitism when he gets a ticket?

    • Puzzled

      You’re a few decades late, that goes on constantly in Brooklyn.

  • captainthecapn

    And wow- lots of antisemitism/whitesplaining going on here.

    • allein


    • bismarket 1

      Get thee back to A+ Forum.

  • C Peterson

    Why do they even have phones? I’m sure there’s something in the Talmud that forbids them on some grounds. Most phones come with Angry Birds pre-installed; you can’t even remove it without rooting the phone. And that game contains swine! Swine I tell you! What kind of orthodox Jew carries around pigs in his pocket?

    • Puzzled

      It was a modern orthodox school. At the real orthodox schools, the school holds the phones and gives them back for breaks.

    • Pseudonym

      They are depicted as bad piggies.

  • Michael Bazemore Jr

    It just goes to show that being a dick is not a sectarian thing.

  • The Other Weirdo

    You know, sometimes I don’t even…

  • Michael W Busch

    The headlines on this story are bit misleading. The students were kicked off the plane for “refusing to sit down and shut off their cellphones”.

    The first one is the more serious problem, and the second one is probably more accurately described as “refusing to stop using their cellphones”. Unless a phone is malfunctioning badly enough to put out enough RFI to register on the airplane’s electronics, you can’t tell if someone has it on and in their pocket. The problem is people talking on and otherwise being distracted by / distracting with their phones when they shouldn’t be.

  • griffox

    I have no experience with this kind of thing, but 101 students to 8 adults. Yeesh!

    • JET

      That sounds about right. Our school district requires a 12 to 1 ratio.

      • griffox

        okay. I guess I’m just showing my phobia of being outnumbered by kids.

        • Artor

          Think; force multipliers.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    They didn’t follow the safety rules.

    Perfectly legit to toss ‘em off the plane.

  • Artor

    Hmmm… It was a class trip, returning home on a Monday after Memorial Day weekend. Can we assume that they left on a Friday? Probably travelling after sundown? Orthodox Jewish students? Isn’t it a stoning offense to travel on the Sabbath? The students should be glad the plane was on the ground when they were ejected.

  • DougI

    If fundies are treated like everyone else then they’ll whine about being persecuted. Fundies have a sense of entitlement since they think of themselves as morally superior to everyone else.

    A couple months ago there was the story of an Orthodox Rabbi flying on a plane. He had to put himself in a garbage bag because flying over a cemetery not encased in magic plastic would have been unkosher. Yeah, flying thousands of feet over a cemetery is wrong, but walking a few inches next to one is perfectly fine. Don’t expect reason from fundies.

    • http://benny-cemoli.myopenid.com/ Benny Cemoli

      You mean this story .

    • Whirlwitch

      I’m frankly not seeing your point borne out in the article. The guy put himself in a plastic bag to resolve his own (strange) dilemma. He didn’t demand that the plane re-route itself so as not to pass over the cemetery, he didn’t require anyone on the plane to take any kind of action, and he wasn’t refusing to comply with a request to take the bag off or screaming persecution. He was just doing something unusual for his own personal reasons, which just happened to be religious/ancestral in nature. If he was in the bag because he felt it helped him with his fear of flying, would you still say he was showing a sense of entitlement and moral superiority?

      • DougI

        The bagged Rabbi was just a side note to elaborate on the absurdity religion promotes.

  • Carpinions

    I’m hoping the parents of these entitled snots gives ‘em a real earful of what actual anti-semitism is like. What an insult to the discrimination of your forebears to scream that over being told to turn your damn phones off, for all of 15 minutes no less.

    • Whirlwitch

      I’d say they should visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, but there is of course the problem of getting them there…

    • Outcast Kyle

      I really doubt it. Parunts like that never teach any discipline to their crotchfruit. That’s why they are such a bunch of brats. If only they spanked the hell out of them every now and then.

  • JA

    People still turn their phones off on planes? (do people really still believe that a cell signal will interfere with a plane’s controls and navigation)

    I just put mine on vibrate and put it back in my pocket. The ambient sounds of the passenger cabin are loud enough so that even if my phone does ring, the vibrating won’t be heard by anyone.

  • peggy

    When you break the rules their are repercussions. But these kids do not think they should have been punished. They are crying discrimination because they are jewish. Ha! We all are sick and tired of hearing this excuse. Stand up take your punishisment for being jerks. The baby sitters of this group should be ashamed for the group AND THEMSELFS
    . The rules do not say everyone turn your phones off, oh except the jewish kids……Do these kids think that because they are jewish that they are above the LAW?? Quit CRYING, YOU ALL WERE WRONG. DO THEY NOT TEACH RESPECT TO THESE KIDS?????

  • APJH

    How exactly could this be construed as anti-Semitic? Judging from the photo of the kids posted on various news sites, there were no outward signs that these kids are Jewish. Were the boys wearing yarmulkes under their baseball caps? Did they have visible prayer shawls? Were the “chaperones” dressed in a way that made their religion evident to the public?

    • http://benny-cemoli.myopenid.com/ Benny Cemoli

      Student Jonathan Zehavi said he felt they were targeted because they are an identifiably Jewish group.(1)

      Because according to one student they looked obviously Jewish so that meant they were kicked off the plane because they are Jews and not because they are a bunch of spoiled brats that were never taught that disobeying the rules has consequences.

      (1) http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/03/us/new-york-students-off-plane/index.html?hpt=hp_c2

  • http://benny-cemoli.myopenid.com/ Benny Cemoli

    Linfield said Southwest Airlines offered vouchers to future air travel to faculty and students who were on the plane.(1)

    Well, I guess they got away with their horrible behavior and blackmail in the end as the airline has bent over backwards to pacify the Rabbi.

    If it had been adults causing the problem they would have ended up in jail. Go fucking figure.


    (1) http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/06/05/100-students-ejected-from-nyc-to-atlanta-flight-for-being-too-rowdy/

  • Greisha

    While antisemitism does exist, in this particular case they are just covering their rear end.

  • Sybilroslyn

    Sybilroslyn • in a few seconds


    Flag as inappropriate

    No one is so special that they should not conform to the rules. As a Jewish parent I congratulate the airline to expect compliance from all. This is not anti-Semitism but arrogant youth.
    see more