Nice, one of Israel’s biggest high-tech companies, said on Monday it would bar its employees from flying El Al Airlines until the carrier ceased its practice of moving female passengers from seats next to ultra-Orthodox passengers.
The rare social protest from a major Israeli company came after an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv was delayed for an hour late last week, as flight attendants sought to find new seats for two women after a group of Haredi males insisted they be moved.
The affair was revealed last Friday by another passenger who posted the details on Facebook. El Al subsequently apologized, saying, “Any discrimination by passengers is absolutely forbidden. El Al flight attendants do everything that they can to provide service to a wide range of passengers and various requests and try to assist.”
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In response, Nice CEO Barak Eilam wrote on his LinkedIn page on Monday: “At NICE we don’t do business with companies that discriminate against race, gender or religion. NICE will not fly @EL AL Israel Airlines until they change their practice and actions discriminating women.”
On Monday, El Al's CEO said the airline will remove any passenger who refuses to sit next to another passenger.
The protest, especially if it spread, could present a serious problem for El Al, for whom Haredi travelers account for a big share of its market, especially on the critical Tel Aviv-New York route. But business travel by high-tech companies is also an important segment for the airline, which has been seeing its market share fall in the face of intense competition.
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Responding on Monday to the comments by Nice's Eilam, El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin said: "The statement released by the Nice CEO was done without checking the facts [and] in a hasty manner, and I have made this clear to him in [a] conversation with him. The El Al people who dealt with the incident did so with proper sensitivity. Anyone flying the national carrier senses the values on which we have built the company. The company [observes] equality without distinction of race religion or gender."
The El Al CEO added: "In the interest of resolving any doubt, I have today ordered a refinement of procedure on the matter and, from now on, a passenger who refuses to sit next to another passenger will be immediately removed from the flight."