El Al passenger Jessica Fishman has accused Israel’s flagship airline of practicing religious coercion after she was asked by an El Al flight attendant on a plane from the US to Israel whether the packed food she had brought from home to eat on the flight was kosher.
In a blog post published on The Times of Israel, Fishman recounts how on her way back to Israel from the US, a flight attendant asked her if the food she was eating, which she had brought from home, was kosher.
“I have packed food with me for years without any problem,” Fishman wrote in the blog. “I have never had a comment from anyone — not a passenger, nor an El Al representative about the food I have brought on a flight.”
However, on this trip things were different.
“The flight attendant, seeing that I was eating my own food, asked me if I wanted an airline meal. I explained to her in Hebrew that I was vegan and as such had brought my own food. After offering me some salad from the tray and me politely declining, she then, without comment, moved on to serve my seatmates,” Fishman wrote.
A few minutes later, she heard the attendant explaining in English to a passenger in the row behind her that Fishman was vegan.
“Immediately, [the attendant] returned to me and asked me if my food was kosher,” Fishman wrote. “In shock that a representative of a public company would have the audacity to inquire into my personal food selection, which I was enjoying privately and quietly, I did not immediately respond.”
The flight attendant did not desist, and said that because the airline was kosher, the food needed to be kosher, Fishman wrote. “Not knowing whether my food was kosher and still in shock, but still wanting to eat, I muttered something like, ‘yeah, sure.'”
At the end of the flight, Fishman said that she approached the head flight attendant to discuss the incident and clarify the situation. “I had hoped that she would ease my concerns by telling me that the flight attendant’s behavior did not represent company policy and that she would look into it,” Fishman wrote. “Instead, the head flight attendant endorsed the other attendant questioning my food choices and its kashrut status.” The head flight attendant further said that following the kashrut laws was similar to being vigilant for food allergies.
Fishman, who is the author of the book “Chutzpah and High Heels: The Search for Love and Identity in the Holy Land,” wrote in the blog post that she is particularly alert to the issue of religious coercion, as she speaks and writes about her experience with the ultra-Orthodox monopoly in Israel in the hope for social change.
Fishman also posted a recording of her conversation in which she is heard telling the head flight attendant in Hebrew: “I wanted to talk to you about an unpleasant experience I had. I wanted to ask you what is your policy regarding kashrut and bringing food onto the plane.”
“It is prohibited to bring food onto the plane,” a voice — presumably that of the flight attendant — says.
“Why?” Fishman asks.
“For kashrut reasons. Only if the food is kosher. This is a kosher plane. El Al is a kosher company.”
A spokeswoman for El Al in Tel Aviv told The Times of Israel that “there are no such instructions at El Al and we are checking the incident.”