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Airline moves women from ultra-Orthodox men — again

Image: EL AL aircraft
El Al says it doesn't move women, but a passenger says it happened at JFK on Friday. Copyright Nir Elias
Copyright Nir Elias
By Alastair Jamieson with NBC News World News
Published on
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A passenger at New York JFK said flight attendants asked female passengers to move.


LONDON — One of Israel's largest tech firms has announced a boycott of national airline El Al after it once again moved female customers away from ultra-Orthodox Jewish men despite a court ruling against the practice.

Barak Eilam, CEO of Ra'anana-based software company NICE Systems, said his company would not fly with the Israeli flag-carrier until it changed its "practice and actions discriminating women."

"At NICE we don't do business with companies that discriminate against race, gender or religion," he wrote on LinkedIn.

It comes after a passenger on El Al's New York JFK-Tel Aviv flight on Friday night saw four ultra-Orthodox men refuse to take their assigned seats because they were next to women.

The witness, Khen Rotem, posted on Facebook that plane's departure was delayed while male flight attendants at first tried to force the men to sit down, then asked women to move until the stand-off was resolved.

One of the men was so devout that he boarded the plane with his eyes closed in an apparent effort to void looking at any woman on board, Rotem said.

While the flight attendants were busy "putting personal practice of faith ahead of individual rights and civil order," the flight missed its turn for take-off and departed one-and-a-quarter hours late, Rotem wrote.

The alleged incident took place almost a year to the day after a landmark ruling by an Israeli court that airline employees cannot ask female passengers to move seats to accommodate men.

Renee Rabinowitz, who sued El Al over being asked to switch seats on a flight.
Renee Rabinowitz, who sued El Al over being asked to switch seats on a flight.Uriel Sinai

The case was brought against El Al by Renee Rabinowitz, an 82-year-old who fled the Nazis during World War II and who was asked to move seats on a 2015 flight from Newark, New Jersey to Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem Magistrates Court ordered El Al to set up a procedure for similar occurrences in future and to Rabinowitz the equivalent of $1,834 in damages.

El Al did not respond to a request for comment from NBC News, but in a statement Sunday, reported by the Associated Press, it apologized and said it does its utmost to serve a "wide array of populations and travelers."

The Israel Religious Action Center, a progressive group that led last year's case, was also unavailable for comment but asked passengers to report any similar cases. "If you have witnessed or experienced illegal gender segregation, please report the incident to us, and we will take action," it said on Facebook.

NICE Systems employs 4,900 workers worldwide. Haaretz reported Tuesday that any boycott could present a serious problem for El Al, for whom both ultra-Orthodox travelers and high-tech companies are important customers.

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