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El Al Faces Discrimination Lawsuit Over Seat-Switching

An elderly woman asked to move to accommodate a Haredi seat-mate says such requests are offensive, sexist, and must stop

Jordana Narin
February 26, 2016
Levinson Brothers/Tablet Magazine
Levinson Brothers/Tablet Magazine
Levinson Brothers/Tablet Magazine
Levinson Brothers/Tablet Magazine

Renee Rabinowitz is angry. She should be. Like so many other women who have flown El Al, Rabinowitz was recently asked to give up her seat on a flight to Tel Aviv so a Haredi man would not have to sit next to her. Now, she’s fighting back. She is suing the airline for discrimination, according to the New York Times. Rabinowitz has teamed up with the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), an advocacy arm of the Reform movement, which has spent two years looking for a plaintiff to join with on a case like this examining religiously-motivated gender segregation.

According to the paper:

Ms. Rabinowitz was comfortably settled into her aisle seat in the business-class section on El Al Flight 028 from Newark to Tel Aviv in December when, as she put it, “this rather distinguished-looking man in Hasidic or Haredi garb, I’d guess around 50 or so, shows up.”

The man was assigned the window seat in her row. But, like many ultra-Orthodox male passengers, he did not want to sit next to a woman, seeing even inadvertent contact with the opposite sex as verboten under the strictest interpretation of Jewish law. Soon, Ms. Rabinowitz said, a flight attendant offered her a “better” seat, up front, closer to first class.

Reluctantly, Ms. Rabinowitz, an impeccably groomed grandmother of 81 who walks with a cane because of bad knees, agreed.

A few weeks after her flight, Rabinowitz approached IRAC director Anat Hoffman and explained that she had recently been a target of seat switching. There and then they agreed to work together to take a stand.

“When did modesty become the sum and end all of being a Jewish woman?” asked Rabinowitz, who fled Nazi-occupied Belgium in 1941, moved to New York, and then moved to Israel 10 years ago. She cited biblical heroines like Deborah, Sarah, and Queen Esther to buttress her position, noting, “Our heroes in history were not modest little women.”

Jordana Narin is an intern at Tablet

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