Israeli airline gives in to religious sexism


Renee Rabinowitz, photo by Uriel Sinai for The New York Times

From the New York Times in the USA:

She Was Asked to Switch Seats. Now She’s Charging El Al With Sexism.

By ISABEL KERSHNER

FEB. 26, 2016

JERUSALEM — RENEE RABINOWITZ is a sharp-witted retired lawyer with a Ph.D. in educational psychology, who escaped the Nazis in Europe as a child. Now she is about to become a test case in the battle over religion and gender in Israel’s public spaces — and the skies above — as the plaintiff in a lawsuit accusing El Al, the national airline, of discrimination.

Ms. Rabinowitz was comfortably settled into her aisle seat in the business-class section on El Al Flight 028 from Newark to Tel Aviv in December when, as she put it, “this rather distinguished-looking man in Hasidic or Haredi garb, I’d guess around 50 or so, shows up.”

The man was assigned the window seat in her row. But, like many ultra-Orthodox male passengers, he did not want to sit next to a woman, seeing even inadvertent contact with the opposite sex as verboten under the strictest interpretation of Jewish law. Soon, Ms. Rabinowitz said, a flight attendant offered her a “better” seat, up front, closer to first class.

Reluctantly, Ms. Rabinowitz, an impeccably groomed 81-year-old grandmother who walks with a cane because of bad knees, agreed.

“Despite all my accomplishments — and my age is also an accomplishment — I felt minimized,” she recalled in a recent interview in her elegantly appointed apartment in a fashionable neighborhood of Jerusalem.

“For me this is not personal,” Ms. Rabinowitz added. “It is intellectual, ideological and legal. I think to myself, here I am, an older woman, educated, I’ve been around the world, and some guy can decide that I shouldn’t sit next to him. Why?”

That is just what many feminists and advocates of religious pluralism in Israel and abroad have been asking in what by all accounts is a growing phenomenon of religious Jewish men refusing to sit next to women on airplanes. Several flights from New York to Israel, on El Al and other airlines, have been delayed or disrupted as women refused to move, and there have been social media campaigns including a protest petition.

Just this week, in a different but related situation, an ultra-Orthodox man created a disturbance on an El Al flight from Warsaw to Tel Aviv to protest the screening of “Truth,” starring Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford, a movie he deemed immodest, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported.

Now, a liberal advocacy group that had spent two years searching for a test case on switching seats plans to sue the blue-and-white flag carrier on Ms. Rabinowitz’s behalf in a Tel Aviv court next week.

“We needed a case of a flight attendant being actively involved,” explained the group’s director, Anat Hoffman, “to show that El Al has internalized the commandment, ‘I cannot sit next to a woman.’ ”

Ms. Hoffman’s group, the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, previously fought Israeli bus companies and the Ministry of Transportation over gender segregation on so-called kosher lines that serve ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. The Supreme Court in 2011 made it illegal to require women to sit in the back of the bus and allowed men and women to sit separately only if they did so voluntarily. Two years later, Israel’s attorney general issued guidelines calling on government ministries and public agencies to end all manifestations of gender segregation in the public sphere.

THE group has since turned its focus skyward. Ms. Rabinowitz attended a lecture by Ms. Hoffman a few weeks after her fateful flight. The topic of seat switching came up, and Ms. Rabinowitz told Ms. Hoffman it had happened to her.

“When I told Anat that the flight attendant had asked me to move, she got very excited,” Ms. Rabinowitz recalled.

Ms. Rabinowitz, who moved to Jerusalem from the United States about a decade ago, says that she is not anti-Haredi — the Hebrew term for ultra-Orthodox, meaning one who trembles before God — and she comes with her own God-fearing credentials.

Born in Belgium, she fled with her family during the Nazi occupation in 1941. She had a religious upbringing, attended an Orthodox Jewish school in New York, where a strictly modest dress code applied, and she still observes most of the laws of the Sabbath. Both her second husband, who died three years ago, and her first (they divorced in 1986) were rabbis.

She described one of her grandchildren as being Hasidic or Haredi, and said, “The idea of having a Haredi population is wonderful, as long as they don’t tell me what to do.”

Ms. Rabinowitz had been visiting family in New York before boarding the Dec. 2 El Al flight home. By her account, the flight attendant had a brief conversation in Hebrew with her ultra-Orthodox seatmate-to-be, which she could not understand, then persuaded Ms. Rabinowitz to come and see the “better” seat, at the end of a row of three.

“There were two women seated there,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oy, if they are going to talk all night I am not going to be happy.’” She asked the flight attendant if he was suggesting the switch because the man next to her wanted her to move, she said, “and he said ‘yes’ without any hesitation.”

WHEN Ms. Rabinowitz returned to her original seat to collect her hand luggage, with the attendant’s assistance, she asked the other passenger, “Why does it matter? I’m 81 years old. And he says, ‘It’s in the Torah.’ ” After briefly arguing the point, she moved to the new seat. “I thought, ‘He’s going to be unhappy,’” she recalled. “There was no other seat available for him next to a man so I thought I’d try it.”

The other women in the new row were busy working and did not chatter. Still, Ms. Rabinowitz said she felt further insulted because the attendant had tried to mislead her.

“The flight attendant treated me as if I was stupid,” she said, “but that’s a common problem in Israel if you don’t speak Hebrew. They assume things about you. They assume they can put one over you.”

A lawyer for the religious action group wrote a letter to El Al last month saying that Ms. Rabinowitz had felt pressured by the attendant and accusing El Al of illegal discrimination. It argued that a request not to be seated next to a woman differed from other requests to move, say, to sit near a relative or a friend, because it was by nature degrading. The lawyer demanded 50,000 shekels, about $13,000, in compensation for Ms. Rabinowitz.

The airline offered, instead, a $200 discount on Ms. Rabinowitz’s next El Al flight. It insisted that there was no gender discrimination on El Al flights, that the flight attendant had made it clear to Ms. Rabinowitz that she was in no way obligated to move, and that she had changed seats without argument.

Ms. Rabinowitz has since had time to ponder. She said her son told her that “this whole idea that you cannot sit next to a woman is bogus.” She cited an eminent Orthodox scholar, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who counseled that it was acceptable for a Jewish man to sit next to a woman on a subway or a bus so long as there was no intention to seek sexual pleasure from any incidental contact.

“When did modesty become the sum and end all of being a Jewish woman?” Ms. Rabinowitz asked. Citing examples like the biblical warrior Deborah, the matriarch Sarah and Queen Esther, she noted: “Our heroes in history were not modest little women.”

Transgender teenager jailed for refusing military service in Israeli Defence Forces. Aiden Katri, a 19-year-old trans woman, faces multiple prison sentences if she continues to refuse: here.

Crowned sandgrouse, lanner falcon, more birds, video


This 1 February 2016 video is about crowned sandgrouse, a lanner falcon, and more birds in Israel.

US NSA, British GCHQ spying on Israel


This video is called Israeli top officials demand an end to NSA spying.

That video is from 23 December 2013.

And now …

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

The US American and British intelligence services have for years spied on Israel during covert operations. This was reported by the German magazine Der Spiegel, according to information provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The US NSA and British GCHQ are said to have followed from 1998 on Israeli army drones during secret missions in Gaza, Iran and Syria.

Der Spiegel reports that the intelligence services were able to intercept the data via a satellite link in Cyprus. On the advanced listening station, they are said to also have seen the video recordings of the drones, though the images were encrypted.

Israeli minister Steinitz reacted, according to the NOS report:

“We know that the US Americans are spying on the whole world and therefore also on us and other allies. Yet it is still disappointing.”

The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Operation Anarchist, as the spying is known, also focused on other countries in the Middle East.

What a misnomer that this Orwellian anti-democratic spying is named after anarchism which rejects all state authority.

New documents from Edward Snowden reveal a spy program the U.S. used to hack Israel’s air force.

Canada has put a hold on sharing top secret spy data with the Five Eyes countries, including the US, after it was discovered that its NSA counterpart had shared info containing the personal details of Canadians, senior government officials said Thursday. Authorities say they made the decision after learning that the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) agency had not properly hidden the metadata of Canadian citizens before sharing it with its international allies. Metadata includes the numbers and time stamps of phone calls, but excludes content: here.

Israeli bus driver refuses participation in anti-Palestinian hysteria


Israeli bus driver Ms Ruty Tehrani

After bad news about public transport in Israel, like women having to sit at the back of buses, some better news today.

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Tel Aviv bus driver refuses to expel Arab man from bus

Today, 20:14

An Israeli bus driver in Tel Aviv refused to expel an Arab man from her bus. Some of the passengers demanded that, when the elderly man began to mutter in Arabic. They were afraid that he was a terrorist.

According to the Jerusalem Post the bus driver then said that anyone who feared that the man would commit an attack could get off.

“Definitely not a terrorist

The incident happened earlier this week on the line from Petah Tikva to Tel Aviv. The driver said in an interview that she did stop the bus following the panic. “I approached the man cautiously and asked whether all was well with him and if he needed help. I saw that he was an elderly man who did not feel so well. He did not look like he was a threat to anyone. He was certainly not a terrorist.”

After that brief conversation she turned to the concerned passengers and told them that they were free to leave the bus, but that she would not expel the man under any circumstances from her bus.

“I was taught that you must have respect everyone and that you must not discriminate against anyone.”

Ruty Tehrani is the bus driver’s name.

Politicians in Israel and quite some other countries have a lot to learn from her.

Israeli government censors book about love


This video from Israel says about itself:

DORIT RABINYAN (2014ׂ) ENGLISH SUBTITLES

3 November 2015

AWARDS WINNING ISRAELI AUTHOR SPEAKS OF HER LITERARY JOURNEYS — INTERVIEWED BY YOAV GINAI FOR ISRAEL’S NATIONAL CHANNEL

From daily Haaretz in Israel:

Principals, Teachers Decry Banning of Arab-Jewish Love Story From Schools

Fear is overtaking reason, teachers association says, after Education Ministry rejects novel about relationship between Israeli woman and Palestinian man.

Or Kashti and Jonathan Lis Dec 31, 2015 5:31 PM

From daily The Guardian in Britain, 1 January 2016:

Novel about Jewish-Palestinian love affair is barred from Israeli curriculum

Government accused of censorship after reportedly saying the award-winning Borderlife by Dorit Rabinyan risked damaging the ‘identity of the nation’

From the New York Times in the USA:

Isaac Herzog of the center-left Zionist Union, which leads the parliamentary opposition, said on Facebook on Thursday: “Tell me, are the People of the Book afraid of books? Are the People of the Book afraid of stories? Or would it be more accurate to say that their education minister is afraid of books and stories? This is a dark worldview that does not believe in the judgment of the public, or a younger generation that is much more involved than previous generations.”

Mr. Herzog said he bought several copies of Ms. Rabinyan’s “wonderful” book on Thursday. Several bookstores said they had sold out of the novel, which tells the story of an Israeli woman from Tel Aviv who falls in love with a Palestinian born in the West Bank city of Hebron after a chance encounter in New York.

Ms. Rabinyan, the author, said that the book was not meant to be provocative. “Let’s say that it’s strength lies in its subtlety,” she told Ynet in a video interview. “Perhaps there is even a conservative Zionist stance in it,” she said, but she added that whoever read it in the education ministry clearly did not read it from that perspective. The book, she said, was “only a mirror” of the complexity of life in Israel.

NSA spying on Israel, United States Congress


Edward Snowden's question on revelations on NSA spying on Israel and Congress

This picture is from a Twitter message by Edward Snowden today. Snowden asks himself:

Did the NSA lie to Congress? Compare today’s Wall Street Journal to Sanders‘ clear 2014 question on spying.

From the Wall Street Journal in the USA:

U.S. Spy Net on Israel Snares Congress

National Security Agency’s targeting of Israeli leaders also swept up the content of private conversations with U.S. lawmakers

By Adam Entous and Danny Yadron

Dec. 29, 2015 4:40 p.m. ET

President Barack Obama announced two years ago he would curtail eavesdropping on friendly heads of state after the world learned the reach of long-secret U.S. surveillance programs.

But behind the scenes, the White House decided to keep certain allies under close watch, current and former U.S. officials said. Topping the list was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Feds: NSA “’Probably’ Spies on Members of Congress“: here.