Retired lawyer sues airline over gender segregation incident

Retired lawyer sues airline over gender segregation incident April 1, 2016

Renee Rabinowitz, 81, a retired lawyer who fled Nazis as a child, is suing the Israeli national airline El Al for alleged discrimination after being asked to change seats when an ultra-Orthodox Jew objected to sitting next to her.
The Guardian reports that Rabinowitz is being supported by the Israel Religious Action Center, which has campaigned against ultra-Orthodox efforts to enforce the segregation of men and women and to have images of women removed from public hoardings.
Almost 7,500 emails have been sent by members of the public to El Al objecting to requests made to women passengers to change seats.
Rabinowitz, a Jew who attends synagogue and keeps a kosher home, told the Guardian:

The man had no other reason to complain than my gender – and that’s unlawful discrimination. It’s no different than if a person of another religion had said: ‘I don’t want to sit next to a Jew’. And I don’t believe El Al would move a person in those circumstance.

On December 2 last year, Rabinowitz settled into her business class seat on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv following a visit to the US to see family. Her seat was one of a pair separated by a screen.
Shortly before the plane doors closed, a passenger who had been allocated the window seat next to her boarded. The middle-aged man, who was wearing ultra-Orthodox garb, called a flight attendant and spoke to him in Hebrew.
Rabinowitz said the flight attendant then offered her what he described as a better seat, one of the central row of three nearer the first class cabin.

I didn’t understand. It wasn’t a better seat.

She said she initially declined to move, but the flight attendant pressed her further and as the plane was close to taking off, she felt she had no alternative. Using her walking stick, Rabinowitz followed him to the front of the business class section.

I asked the flight attendant point blank if the man sitting next to me had asked me to be moved, and unabashedly he said yes. I then went back to the man and said: ‘I’m an 81-year-old woman, what’s your problem?’
He started to tell me it was forbidden by the Torah. I interrupted him to say the Torah says nothing about a man sitting next to a woman. He conceded I was right, but said there was a general principle that a person should not put himself in a dangerous situation.
I had to do some quick thinking. He was wrong, but we had an 11-hour flight ahead of us. It’s not so pleasant to be sitting with a person who would rather you weren’t there. So I decided to move.

After the plane landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, as Rabinowitz waited on board for wheelchair assistance, the captain emerged from the cockpit. She told him what had happened, and said she felt insulted for being asked to move simply because of her gender.

He said it was not up to the staff, but was company policy.

Back home in Jerusalem, Rabinowitz attended a public meeting at which Anat Hoffman, IRAC’s Executive Director, spoke about the organisation’s successful campaign to end gender segregation on Israel’s public buses at the demand of the ultra-Orthodox. Since IRAC won a court case on the issue, buses carry prominent notices informing passengers they may sit where they wish.
Rabinowitz said:

Anat said they wanted to launch a similar action in the air. Afterwards I told her what had happened to me.

Hoffman said:

We kept hearing from women, both Israelis and tourists, that they had been asked to move seats on planes. We were looking for a good case to take up, and then Renee walked in. She’s 81, and a Holocaust survivor – and she was humiliated by Israel’s national airline.

Rabinowitz and IRAC are seeking 50,000 shekels (£9,200) in damages and wants EL Al to publish clear staff guidelines:

Concerning their obligation to act in an egalitarian manner, including emphasising to the company’s aircrews that they must defend women’s rights to sit in their allocated seat, and clarifying to flight attendants that they may not acquiesce to requests by passengers wishing to change places purely for reasons of gender.?

IRAC is awaiting El Al’s formal statement of defence, which must be submitted within 30 days of the lawsuit being filed. But in a letter to Rabinowitz’s lawyer, the company insisted there was no gender discrimination on El Al flights.
It said it had investigated the incident, and found that the flight attendant had dealt with Rabinowitz politely and sensitively, making it clear that Rabinowitz was not obliged to move.
As a gesture of goodwill, El Al offered Rabinowitz a $200 (£140) voucher towards her next flight, and, in a statement, the company said it maintained:

The highest levels of equal treatment and respect for all passengers. Our employees in the air, on the ground, in Israel and around the globe do all possible to listen to and provide solutions to the concerns or requests from our customers whatever they might be, including seating requests on the airplane.

Said Rabinowitz.

The money is not the important issue here, it’s the principle. I’m not generally a crusader. This just happened and it was very disturbing and very demeaning.

Hoffman described El Al’s acquiescence to demands to move women passengers as:

One more way that ultra-Orthodox extremists get away with demands that have nothing to do with Judaism. Humiliating women can in no way qualify as a religious act. It is simply not acceptable.

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  • AgentCormac

    ‘He said it was not up to the staff, but was company policy’.
    In other words, ‘we were just following orders’. I wish Renee Rabinowitz all the luck in the world.

  • Broga

    This challenge is long overdue. Good luck to her.

  • L.Long

    Wish I was a woman on that flight…I would have stayed right there and went ‘to sleep’ with me sorta falling toward him…waking and moving back…then sleep ..fall toward him…etc. If anyone made objections I would use gentle language to tell them to piss off…and HE would be moving in 5-4-3….
    I hope she succeeds and sues the shit out of the airline.

  • Barty

    Watch this from 13 minutes 20 seconds to see the bigotry of shitehawk fundamentalist jews.
    When you have got over that watch the whole thing and then worry that lunatics like these are allowed to roam the streets of modern Britain. A whole audience of fuckwit fundamentalist fruitcakes.
    Of course I exclude the marvellous Professor Francesca Stav… … the voice of reason and expertise.

  • RussellW

    Who cares whether the demands have anything to do with Judaism? It’s discrimination, and why is the onus on women to change seats, rather than the mysogynist pricks themselves?
    I doubt that the ravings of Bronze Age nomads have anything useful to say about 21st century air travel.
    Oy vey!

  • Barty

    And of course I exclude the marvelous Smurthwaite … what a woman.

  • John

    It is easy to be wise after an event but maybe all women passengers on these flights should be told to remember the words “Move him”.

  • But in a letter to Rabinowitz’s lawyer, the company insisted there was no gender discrimination on El Al flights.
    It said it had investigated the incident, and found that the flight attendant had dealt with Rabinowitz politely and sensitively, making it clear that Rabinowitz was not obliged to move.

    In a way that’s the most insulting part of all. It’s not “polite” and “sensitive” to ask someone to move to a different seat because the person in the next seat is grossed out.
    Also, if the Haredi guy wanted to sit next to a man, why didn’t El Al make him move?

  • CoastalMaineBird

    why is the onus on women to change seats,
    Because of the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, of course.

  • 1859

    The power of woman! What could this ultra-fruit-basket be so frightened of? The woman might grope him? Or he might be tempted to grope her ? Oi Vey! Who was it said ‘the whole world turns around a woman’s hips’? I hope she wins a bucket load of cash.

  • John the Drunkard

    ‘I’m not generally a crusader.’
    I would hope not! She was able to point out that Torah ‘backup’ claimed by the troll was nonexistent.
    This stuff seems to be part of the general resurgence of belligerent religious demands for privileged status. If it was really so important for these twits not to sit next to women, they could charter their own flights and be all ‘special’ without inflicting their foolishness on anyone else.
    Israel is in a horrible spot. Founded by secular, progressive Jews, the nation’s ‘right of return’ has made it a haven for deranged cultists who could NEVER have acted out like this at any other time. Can you imagine one of these fur-hat fools demanding special seating under the Czar? Or in France, England, the U.S.?

  • Cali Ron

    The rabbi has such a haughty attitude towards everyone, but especially to the women, when he is in fact a silly old fool believing in a silly old fairy tale religion that isn’t even supported by his own “holy” book. These orthodox Jews are in need of some serious psychiatric help.
    As was mentioned above, why is the woman always asked to move and not the old fart with a Torah up his arse.

  • Laura Roberts

    Why in hell didn’t the steward move HIM instead? He’s the one with the problem. If they can’t find him a seat in business class near someone with a penis, then he can damn well sit in coach. If they can’t find a penis for him there, then he can get on the next flight. It’s his problem, not anyone else’s.

  • H3r3tic

    @Barty – Thanks for posting that link – I love watching Big Questions (although my wife despairs when I’m rendered incapably by either laughter or rage) but as I work every other Sunday I missed this classic example of religious fuckwittery.

  • Vanity Unfair

    “As a gesture of goodwill, El Al offered Rabinowitz a $200 (£140) voucher towards her next flight…”
    Having been insulted once, do you think she would want to be insulted again, even at cut rate? Being insulted by a passenger is one thing but being insulted by the airline is another entirely. They didn’t even offer a transfer to first class. That would have upset the stringently orthodox divine.