In a landmark decision, Jerusalem’s Magistrate Court recently ruled that airlines will no longer be allowed to change a passenger’s seat because of their gender.
Renee Rabinowitz, an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor, sued Israel’s national El Al Airline after she was asked to move because of the wishes of an Orthodox man who was seated next to her. Rabinowitz was already sitting before the man arrived to his seat, but acquiesced when the flight attendant asked her to move.
Afterwards, however, Rabinowitz said she felt “deep humiliation.”
As more strictly religious Jewish men are taking to the skies, these requests to move seats are becoming commonplace. “Strictly religious Jewish men who refuse to sit next to women, for fear of even inadvertent contact that could be considered immodest … [have] caused disruptions and flight delays around the world and prompted protests and social media campaigns,” The New York Times reports.
Ms. Rabinowitz was defended in court by the Israel Religious Action Center, a part of the Reform Movement in Israel that prides itself on defending the freedom of religion. The center makes sure to note on its website that this also includes defending those who are subject to religious coercion, “as its goals include freedom from religion as much as freedom of religion.”
“It’s difficult to find someone who has flown New York to Tel Aviv who hasn’t seen it or been a part of it,” he confirmed.
The New York Times reports that El Al’s lawyers argued in court that “passengers often ask flight attendants to reseat them to be closer to a relative, or farther from a crying baby, or for many other reasons.” The airline’s policy is to try to accommodate such requests whenever possible.
The airline also denied that it discriminated against women, stating that its policies apply equally to men.
However, the court found that asking a person to move because of their gender violates Israel’s anti-discrimination laws.
In discussions outside the courtroom, the The New York Times reports, “the two sides in the case agreed on a judgment proposed by the judge, declaring that it is forbidden for a crew member to ask a passenger to change seats at the request of another passenger based on gender. El Al agreed to tell its cabin staff in writing about the prohibition within 45 days, and to provide training in how to deal with such situations within six months.”
When she heard of the ruling, Ms. Rabinowitz said that she was “thrilled because the judge understood the issue.”
Ms. Rabinowitz was also awarded 6,500 shekels, or just under $1,900, in compensation. However, from the beginning, she said she felt the case wasn’t about money.
Speaking of the judge’s ruling, Ms. Rabinowitz explained, “She realized it is not a question of money; they awarded a very small sum. She realized it’s a matter of El Al changing its policy, which they have been ordered to do.”
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