Airport bars ad telling women not to give up seats for ultra-Orthodox men

Billboards for Ben Gurion Airport by Reform movement’s advocacy arm were aimed to back court ruling that said El Al can’t force female passengers to move from their assigned places

A new ad by Israel Religious Action Center telling women they do not have to give up their seats on flights to Israel at the requests of ultra-Orthodox men.  (Courtesy)
A new ad by Israel Religious Action Center telling women they do not have to give up their seats on flights to Israel at the requests of ultra-Orthodox men. (Courtesy)

The Israel Airports Authority has refused to allow the Reform movement to display billboard ads in Ben Gurion International Airport that inform women that it is illegal for them to be compelled to change seats on a flight to accommodate ultra-Orthodox men who refuse to sit next to women.

Sponsored by the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform movement in Israel, the ad reads: “Ladies, please take your seat … and keep it.” It explains that requiring a person to switch seats because of gender is illegal and that flight attendants are not allowed to ask a passenger to switch seats to enable segregation by gender.

El Al, Israel’s national carrier, had been known to regularly ask passengers to move seats at the request —  and sometimes the demand — of ultra-Orthodox men who refuse to sit next to women.

Speaking to Army Radio on Monday, IRAC director Rabbi Noa Sattath said the billboards were part of a campaign that has gone on for several years against the practice of moving women at the request of men. The center had planned to display the billboards over the week-long Passover holiday period when the airport sees one of its busiest periods in the year.

The IAA had initially agreed to the display the ads at departure gates but four days before Passover, which began on Friday night, IRAC was told the billboards were banned, Sattath said.

In a landmark ruling last June, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court said that El Al cannot force women to change seats at the request of ultra-Orthodox men. The court agreed with IRAC, which brought the suit, in ruling the practice was illegal and discriminatory.

Renee Rabinowitz, the 81-year-old whose El Al experience helped create a lawsuit (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The chief plaintiff in the case was 81-year old Holocaust survivor Renee Rabinowitz, who sued the airline for discrimination after a flight attendant asked her to move seats on a flight in December 2015. She was awarded NIS 6,500 compensation.

“If it is important to a man [to not sit next to a woman] then he should make arrangements before he gets on the plane,” Sattath stressed.

IAA spokesman Ofer Leffler confirmed to Army Radio that the billboards were pulled and explained that it was done in order to keep the airport out of any political or divisive debate.

Speaking to the Haaretz newspaper, Sattath said the same billboards were approved for display in Newark International Airport but were too expensive, so the IRAC aimed for Tel Aviv instead.

“It makes much more sense to do this in Israel, which is where the main problem is,” she said according to a Tuesday report from the paper.

In 2016, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey rejected a bid by IRAC to hang the same posters in the El Al airlines passenger waiting area at Newark. The Port Authority, however, said at the time it was reviewing its ad guidelines, “making it likely that the seating ad will eventually appear at a local airport.”

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich at his party’s weekly faction meeting at the Knesset, December 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In a tweet Monday MK Bezalel Smotrich from the national religious Jewish Home party said the Reform movement was “a bunch of trolls” for calling on people to disregard the religious beliefs of others while asking that their own movement be treated equal to the traditional religious camps.

“The essence of the Reform movement in one ad,” he wrote. “Calling on the public not to be good, not to act, God forbid, kindly, not to be considerate, God forbid, of feelings and beliefs of others (even when there is no “price” other than to sit on the same chair, with same cramped leg space, just in a different place…) and then to ask their faith be taken into consideration. And all in English. A bunch of trolls.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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