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Men’s stance on women sparks delay and fuss for airline

June 26, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

A strange impasse concerning four men who refused to sit next to any women – and who further refused to listen to female flight attendants – has caused problems for an international airline.

Israeli airline El Al has been accused of discrimination after it reportedly moved two female passengers after pressure from the male travellers who refused to sit next to them. The male travellers apparently belonged to a Jewish ultra-Orthodox sect so devout that that the men kept their eyes shut throughout the flight from New York to Tel Aviv, to avoid having to look at women.

Takeoff was delayed by more than an hour while the airline tried to sort out the problem. Finally the women were forced to move, which has stirred up controversy.

A male passenger on the flight, Khen Rotem, wrote on Facebook that initial attempts by flight crew to reason with the men failed because the flight attendants were women, the Times of Israel reported. The four men involved wouldn’t speak to the flight attendants for that reason.

“The crew tries to solve the problem,” Rotem wrote. “This doesn’t work. The female flight attendants clear space for the authoritative men on board … the ultra-Orthodox are not ready to speak with, or even look at the female flight attendants.”

“All the men in the crew, except for the captain, are now only dealing with this instead of preparing for takeoff and serving the passengers. The ultra-Orthodox don’t blink. One of the crew members threatens: ‘If you don’t sit down, you can get off the plane right now.'”

Finally, “after a lot of writhing, shouts and manoeuvring,” an elderly American woman and a young Israeli woman agreed to switch seats.

Rotem said he has asked El Al to clarify whether it has an official policy on the issue, the paper reported.

“Can any traveller demand – and receive – moving other passengers from their places for their personal well-being and in accordance with their beliefs. Or is this a privilege reserved only for a segment of travellers,” he wrote.

El Al later apologised for any “inconvenience” over the issue.

“Any discrimination against passengers is absolutely forbidden,” Hadashot TV news quoted the airline saying.

“El Al flight attendants do all they can in order to provide service to a wide variety of passengers with different and diverse requests and try to assist to the best of their ability.”

Last year, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled that El Al couldn’t force women to change seats at the request of ultra-Orthodox men.

Wikipedia notes that Negiah, literally “touch”, is the concept in Jewish law (Halakha) that forbids or restricts physical contact with a member of the opposite sex (except for one’s spouse, children, siblings, grandchildren, parents, and grandparents).

“The laws of negiah are typically followed by Orthodox Jews, with varying levels of observance,” says Wikipedia. “Some Orthodox Jews follow the laws with strict modesty and take measures to avoid accidental contact, such as avoiding sitting next to a member of the opposite sex on a bus, airplane, or other similar seating situation. Others are more lenient, only avoiding purposeful contact. Adherents of Conservative and Reform Judaism do not follow these laws.”

Presumably the passengers at the centre of El Al’s latest problem belonged to a breakaway ultra-Orthodox sect.

Rotem noted that other Orthodox men aboard expressed “surprise and revulsion” at the four ultra-Orthodox men’s conduct.

Written by Peter Needham

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