Lufthansa denies antisemitism in decision to kick all identifiable Jews off a flight
German airline will still appoint manager to deal with prejudice; blames miscommunication for incident in which 100 people were removed to ‘pay’ for others refusing to don mask
JTA — The Lufthansa airline is creating a senior management role dedicated to preventing discrimination and antisemitism two months after it barred a large group of Orthodox Jewish passengers from boarding a flight.
However, an independent investigation commissioned by the airline said there was no evidence of institutional antisemitism behind the incident, which the company’s CEO deemed “categorically inappropriate.”
In a letter to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Lufthansa Airlines CEO Jens Ritter said the airline had established an internal task force to investigate the May 4 incident in which more than 100 Hasidic passengers were kicked off a connecting flight from New York to Budapest because some of them had not worn masks and committed other flight violations, such as gathering in the aisles.
The incident had outraged Jews in the United States and Europe, some of whom alleged that the crew had been discriminating against all visible Jewish passengers, even those who had complied with the rules.
The Conference of Presidents was one of several Jewish groups to criticize Lufthansa in the aftermath and demand a full accounting of the incident.
Most of the passengers were traveling to a pilgrimage and did not know each other; a Lufthansa supervisor was caught on video remarking, “Everyone has to pay for a couple,” and, “It’s Jews coming from JFK. Jewish people who were the mess, who made the problems.”
The incident also attracted the attention of Deborah Lipstadt, the US State Department’s special envoy for antisemitism, who said this week that she would be meeting with the head of the worldwide Lufthansa Group, as well as the head of the airline in North America, to discuss allegations of antisemitism against the airline.
“It’s hard to believe but often it’s ignorance rooted in certain perceptions, and ignorance that stems from an antisemitic nature,” she said during a webinar hosted by the Anti-Defamation League, speculating as to the Lufthansa crew’s motives for kicking off all Hasidic passengers.
In the Lufthansa letter, dated July 22 and first obtained by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the airline’s task force acknowledged that some of its crew members had been “insensitive and unprofessional” in dealing with the passengers. But the report concluded, “The thorough investigation did not reveal any sentiments of antisemitism, prejudice or premeditated behavior by Lufthansa representatives.”
Ritter also blamed “an unfortunate chain of inaccurate communication, misinterpretation and unintended misjudgments” on the final result, while pointing out that the “several Orthodox Jewish passengers” who were not complying with regulations had “created a tenuous situation” and prompted “several announcements” from the captain.
The CEO promised that the German airline would take further action, including establishing a senior management role “for the prevention of discrimination and antisemitism,” creating new staff training around issues of antisemitism and adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.
It had also run the report’s methodology by Felix Klein, Germany’s top commissioner on antisemitism. The connecting flight in May was in Frankfurt, Germany.
“Lufthansa deeply regrets the denied boarding and the impact it had on our passengers,” Ritter said.
The airline had previously apologized to the passengers for failing to limit its denial of boarding to “non-compliant guests.”
On Wednesday, Lufthansa canceled nearly all flights leaving Frankfurt and Munich, stranding 130,000 people, after thousands of employees staged a walkout for better wages.