Holocaust Survivor Seeks Compensation Over El Al Seat Swapping

Renee Rabinowitz is asking $17,000 in damages over what she claims is gender discrimination after being asked to leave seat for ultra-Orthodox man.

Renee Rabinowitz.
Uriel Sinai / NYT

An 82-year-old Holocaust survivor is suing El Al over an incident last year in which she was asked to switch seats so an ultra-Orthodox man would not be forced to sit next to her on a flight from Newark to Tel Aviv.

Renee Rabinowitz claims the Israeli airline's seating policy discriminates against women and says the man requested she move because sitting next to her would violate Jewish law. She is seeking $17,000 in damages.

El Al said Thursday it will respond to the claims in court.

The Israel Religious Action Center, an advocacy group representing Rabinowitz, says El Al violated an Israeli ban on gender discrimination in the provision of public services. Court documents provided by the group say Rabinowitz felt humiliated by having to move because she is a woman.

Rabinowitz told The New York Times, which first published the story, that she was already seated in a business-class aisle seat when, “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 did not want to sit next to a woman. A flight attendant offered Rabinowitz what he said was a “better” seat in a row closer to first class.

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.”

"I asked the other passenger what the problem was and he said it was in the Torah. I said that I know a bit about the Torah and there's nothing in it about sitting next to a woman." At the end of the flight, she said, she spoke with the pilot who acknowledged that it was El Al policy to meet the demands of Haredi passengers.