Orthodox men can’t make women change airline seats, Israeli court rules

An advocacy group said that it won a case against Israel’s national airline, El Al, that will make it illegal to ask female passengers to move their seats at the request of ultraorthodox men.

JERUSALEM — An advocacy group said Thursday that it won a case against Israel’s national airline, El Al, that will make it illegal to ask female passengers to move their seats at the request of ultraorthodox males.

The Israel Religious Action Center filed the case on behalf of Renee Rabinowitz, 83, a Holocaust survivor who had said she felt humiliated when an El Al flight attendant asked her to move from her seat at the request of an ultraorthodox man.

Strictly religious Jewish men who refuse to sit next to women, for fear of even inadvertent contact that could be considered immodest, are a growing phenomenon that has caused disruptions and flight delays around the world and prompted protests and social-media campaigns. The pressure to switch seats can be particularly acute on El Al. And the issue has become emblematic of a broader battle in Israel over religion and gender in public spaces.

According to Wednesday’s decision, asking a passenger to move based on gender amounts to discrimination.

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“Just as they wouldn’t move someone if they said ‘I don’t like Arabs, I won’t sit next to an Arab,’ they would say, ‘We are sorry, we can’t accommodate that’; it’s the same thing now with gender,” Rabinowitz said.

The center called the ruling “revolutionary.” It said El Al was ordered to pay Rabinowitz about $1,700 in damages.

In a statement, El Al said it would respect the ruling.

The case was set in motion after Rabinowitz boarded El Al Flight 028, bound for Tel Aviv from Newark, New Jersey, in December 2015. She had settled into her aisle seat in business class when the passenger with the window seat showed up: an ultraorthodox man who complained…

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