Delta Blues Hit the Jews

Delta Airlines may have proved Joseph Goebbels wrong, but if he were here, he wouldn't object. Its cowardly choice of market share over morality would have been fine with him.

"Repeat a lie often enough, and people will believe it." This idea, often attributed to Goebbels, is a misquote. Goebbels, following the lead of his master, Adolph Hitler, didn't believe that repetition would work for all lies. It was the big ones that stood the greatest chance of success. In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that the masses could more easily be suckered by colossal lies than small ones. The common folk told small ones themselves, so could suspect that others would do the same. They would not have the audacity to make up the truly stupendous untruth—and therefore wouldn't believe that others would either. Faced with one, they would believe that it must be true. Large lies would work; small lies would be detected.

Delta is going for small rather than large. By making the distortion subtle, they hope they can get away with it. So far, it is working.

Airlines band together in several competing alliances of carriers. Delta added Saudi Arabian Airlines to its Sky Team Alliance. Someone recalled Saudi's practices regarding non-Muslims. They won't allow passengers to carry in personal religious articles, like Bibles and crucifixes. Jews can sometimes get in—but sometimes not, especially if their passport has an Israeli stamp. Was Delta going to enforce these policies for Saudi?

Delta could have gone the route of the Big Lie. (The Saudis come much closer to that, claiming to be tolerant and progressive, despite their oppression of women, zero tolerance of other religions, and funding of extremist Islamist institutions.) It chose instead to go with the Little Lie.

In a statement on its blog, Delta cobbled together enough high-minded platitudes to lift us to 30,000 feet. Delta does not discriminate. (The issue is not Delta, it is with whom they partner.) Delta celebrates diversity. (As long as it doesn't include Christian or gay travelers to Saudi Arabia.) The final cut is the cruelest:

We, like all international airlines, are required to comply with all applicable laws governing entry into every country we serve. You as passengers are responsible for obtaining the necessary travel documents, such as visas and certification of required vaccinations, and we're responsible for making sure that you have the proper documentation before you board.

Here is the crux of Delta's moral failure—and its insidious little lie. Delta wants us to believe that they are, so to speak, "just following orders." Saudi has its policies, and regrettably, Delta must see that they are enforced for passengers to avoid problems. Will Delta comply if Saudi should decide to ask passengers for a written declaration that they are not gay? Would Delta have bought electrical parts from Siemens in the '30s, after they adopted a policy of not hiring Jews? What about during the '40s, when they added Jews to their work force—accommodating 100,000 slave laborers from Auschwitz? Would Delta tell the public that they have no control over working conditions inside their supplier's factories?

Delta's lie is in posturing itself as if it has nothing to say about Saudi's practices, and therefore no responsibility. This, of course, is not true. Delta has the option of saying that they don't need racists in its alliance. By choosing the bottom line over all others, Delta makes it easy for all others who contemplate exporting their prejudices elsewhere.

Interestingly, this drama unfolds during a week whose Torah reading contains both the big and the little lie. Different motivations fired up the groups involved in the Korah Rebellion (Num. 16). Some challenged the necessity of a priesthood, arguing that "the entire assembly—all of them—are holy." The people who stood at Sinai do not require anyone acting as their intercessor with G-d. Others challenged Moses' choice of his brother Aaron for the job. Did G-d really command the appointment? Or did Moses use his clout with G-d to influence the appointment? Still others attacked Moses frontally, accusing him of seeking to "dominate us, even to dominate further."

The last of the three claims has to be seen as a Big Lie. The Bible testifies that Moses was the most humble person ever. Calling him power-hungry was such a bald lie that it could only hope to succeed because it was so audacious. The errors in the first two claims were far more subtle. Moses takes on the last claim—the Big Lie one—directly, by demonstrating how he never, ever took advantage of his position for personal gain, even when it would have been justified. He fights the Big Lie with the truth. He is powerless, however, to undo the damage of the little lie claims. G-d Himself must miraculously intervene to set the record straight.

We are probably not going to see this issue resolved the way the Korah Rebellion ended. The earth will likely not open its mouth and swallow up Delta spokespeople. If we are truly blessed, if enough people express their indignation over importing Saudi standards to America, the spokespeople will perhaps learn not to open their mouths without first considering the implications.

6/29/2011 4:00:00 AM
  • Jewish
  • The Velvet Kippah
  • Anti-Semitism
  • Discrimination
  • Delta Airlines
  • Ethics
  • Morality
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Judaism
  • Yitzchok Adlerstein
    About Yitzchok Adlerstein
    Yitzchok Adlerstein is an Orthodox rabbi who directs interfaith affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and chairs Jewish Law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He is hopelessly addicted to the serious study of Torah texts.