Israel has rejected a billboard campaign by Reform Jews that urged female passengers at Ben-Gurion Airport not to give up their flight seats to ultra-Orthodox men refusing to sit next to women.
The campaign was launched by the Israel Religious Action Center, the advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, which had hoped to display the ads at the Tel Aviv airport during the heavy travel season of Passover.
Responding to the campaign on Twitter, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) called the Reform movement “a bunch of trolls.”
The Israel Airports Authority’s refusal to allow the billboards to be hung at the airport was first reported Monday morning by Army Radio.
According to IRAC Director Rabbi Noa Sattath, the management of Newark International Airport had already approved the billboards. However, because of the high costs involved, her organization had decided to hang them only in Tel Aviv. “It makes much more sense to do this in Israel, which is where the main problem is,” she told Haaretz.
The billboard depicts two adjacent airplane seats, with a pair of women’s shoes on the floor below one seat and the black hat traditionally worn by ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) men on the seat of the other. “Ladies, please take your seat ... and Keep it!” the billboard urges.
It notes that “requiring a passenger to switch seats because of their gender is illegal,” and that “a flight attendant may not force you to switch seats to avoid mixed seating.”
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Sattath said the IRAC had already reached an agreement with the Airports Authority on the price of hanging the billboards. “But suddenly, they notify us that they’re not approving it,” she said.
Asked for comment, IAA spokesman Ofer Leffler responded: “We steer clear of any advertising that is political or divisive. For the same reason, we would reject billboards by the Islamic Movement and Yad l’Achim,” he said, referring to a Haredi anti-assimilation group.
The campaign follows a landmark court ruling against El Al handed down last June. The Israeli national airline was sued by a female passenger who had been pressured to change her business-class seat by a flight attendant, in order to accommodate an ultra-Orthodox male passenger who refused to sit next to her.
Holocaust survivor Renee Rabinowitz, now 83, was represented in court by IRAC. A Jerusalem court awarded her 6,500 shekels ($1,850) in damages and ruled that El Al was prohibited from allowing seat changes based on gender. It gave the airline six months to clarify this in its policies and in staff training.
According to Sattath, the billboard campaign was meant to ensure that El Al fulfilled these requirements.
In a statement posted on his Twitter account on Monday, Smotrich wrote, “A summary of the Reform movement in one billboard: A call to the public not to be good; not to commit – heaven forbid – an act of grace; not to consider – heaven forbid – the feelings and beliefs of others (even when there is no ‘price’ other than to sit in the same seat, with the same lack of legroom but in another place...), and then to go ask for consideration for their beliefs. And everything in English.”