Middle East

Israeli airline El Al banned from asking women to switch seats

El Al airline Image copyright Getty Images

Israeli airline El Al has been banned from asking women to switch seats if ultra-Orthodox Jewish men object to sitting next to them, a court has ruled.

Passenger Renee Rabinowitz, who is in her 80s, brought a damages case against the airline, after she was asked to move.

Jerusalem Magistrate's Court said such requests break discrimination laws.

The airline says it never pressures passengers to swap seats.

Ms Rabinowitz, a Holocaust survivor, was flying from Newark in the US to Tel Aviv in 2015, when the air steward made the request.

She said she felt "humiliated".

Many strictly Orthodox men avoid accidentally touching women other than their wives in order to guard against extra-marital attraction, a concept in Jewish law known as negiah.

Civil rights group Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), which was representing Ms Rabinowitz in the case, said the win was "a huge victory" in a "long fought battle against gender segregation in the public sphere".

Similar requests for seat swaps have been causing problems and delays on fights, according to The Jerusalem Post, "due to the refusal of such men to take their seats before take off".

The ruling "ends years of uproar over the policy led by rights groups who say it is discriminatory," it said.

El Al argued in court that it opposes any form of discrimination against passengers, said The Times of Israel.

The court ordered El Al to inform staff that such requests are illegal.

It awarded Ms Rabinowitz 6,500 shekels ($1,800; £1,450) in damages.

"I'm thrilled because the judge understood the issue," she told The New York Times. "She realised it is not an issue of money; they awarded a very small sum. She realised it's a matter of El Al changing its policy and that's what they've been ordered to do."

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