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Seating Dispute Delays Another Flight to Israel

Proximity to women still a problem

Elon Green
December 26, 2014
(Lukas Rebec /
(Lukas Rebec /

A new report of an old problem:

An international flight from New York to Tel Aviv was delayed for half an hour after ultra-Orthodox men refused to sit between two women.

This happens often enough that, a couple of months ago–after a bunch of incidents in which ultra-Orthodox male passengers refused to sit next to women traveling to Ben Gurion from JFK Airport–Tablet put together a helpful how-to video for men flying the friendly skies.

In September, it happened to Elana Sztokman, who came to the U.S. for her book tour.

The plane took off 20 minutes late because an ultra-Orthodox man was negotiating with passengers so as not to have to sit next to a woman—me—on the 11-hour flight. …

So, finally I spoke out. Right before the man found a replacement to sit next to me, I said, “Can I say something?” and without looking at me, he said yes. I said, “Imagine if instead of men and women, we were talking about Jews and non-Jews. Imagine how you would feel if a bunch of non-Jews were standing around saying that they can’t sit next to you because you’re a Jew, that they are willing to sit anywhere but next to you, because their religion won’t allow it, because you are impure or different, or whatever. How would you feel? How would you ever get over that insult?” I could feel my voice rising. After all these years of writing about this, after this whole tour where I went around listening to people and sharing ideas, I just couldn’t stay silent in the face of this humiliation.

I’m not sure whether it mattered. One young man very kindly said to me, “You don’t understand, women are holier than men.” I said, “That’s rubbish and it doesn’t excuse the insult,” and then I added that I spent 13 years in yeshiva and there’s nothing he could tell me that I haven’t already heard.

There’s at least a chance this discrimination may not be around much longer. Pressure has been brought to bear on El Al to “stop the bullying, intimidation and discrimination against women on your flights.”

Elon Green is a writer in New York.