In a move that should have happened a long time ago, Israeli national airline El Al announced that they would no longer accommodate ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who refuse to sit next to women.
In the past, the airline would encourage women to change their seats, decisions that have led to massive outcries and plenty of viral stories each time it happens. Why should women have to change their seats because some men have a hang-up about sitting next to them? It’s not sexual. It’s just faith-based sexism.
That policy is now changing.
El Al says it will no longer facilitate discrimination and that “Any passengers refusing to sit next to other passengers will immediately be removed from the aircraft.”
The airline, whose bottom line depends on both ultra-Orthodox and business customers… apologized after the incident, stating that “discrimination by passengers is absolutely forbidden. El Al flight attendants do everything that they can to provide service to a wide range of passengers and various requests and try to assist.”
[Chairman Gonen] Usishkin’s announcement comes at a time of growing pushback from Israeli feminists and human rights advocates, who have been demanding that the airline comply with laws banning religious coercion on planes, buses and other venues.
Don’t assume this came out of nowhere. It’s not that they finally saw the light. It arguably took a powerful tech company to push them to this conclusion. That company, Nice, said yesterday that its employees would no longer be flying El Al due to the discriminatory policy:
… Nice CEO Barak Eilam wrote on his LinkedIn page on Monday: “At NICE we don’t do business with companies that discriminate against race, gender or religion. NICE will not fly @EL AL Israel Airlines until they change their practice and actions discriminating women.”
That turned out to be very effective. The question for the airline became, which core group of customers do we upset: Ultra-Orthodox Jews or everybody else? That question has hovered in the air for a while, but the pressure was finally enough that they had to make a decision.
They didn’t even try and half-ass it. They always had the option of saying passengers who had their own rules about who they could or couldn’t sit next to would just have to buy two seats. They didn’t do that. They went straight to kicking those people off the flight. Good move.
Let’s be honest, though. It shouldn’t have taken this long. Passengers have complained about this problem for years and El Al did nothing. A lawsuit didn’t change anything either. It took public pressure.
There have always been religious accommodationists arguing that women should just change their seats when an ultra-Orthodox man asks them to. It’s the polite thing to do, after all. That was always a despicable position, suggesting that faith-based sexism deserved to be respected.
It’s good to see that, now, even religion isn’t an excuse for bigotry on El Al.
(Image via Shutterstock)