U.S. Threatens Action Against Kuwait Airlines for Refusing to Fly Israelis

Airline says Kuwaiti law prevents it from entering 'into an agreement, personally or indirectly, with entities or persons residing in Israel, or with Israeli citizenship.'

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The United States Transportation Department threatened to take legal action against Kuwait Airways on Thursday for refusing to sell tickets to Israelis, USA Today reported.

In a legal letter to the airline, the department ordered it to “cease and desist from refusing to transport Israeli citizens between the U.S. and any third country where they are allowed to disembark.”

Failure to comply with the letter will leave the department with "no choice but to pursue further administrative and/or judicial action,” wrote Blane Workie, the department’s assistant general counsel for enforcement.

Refusing to sell tickets to Israelis is a breach of U.S. law, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said several weeks ago.

The department is investigating at least two incidents in which the airline refused to sell tickets to Israelis. In one, Eldad Gatt, an Israeli citizen, was refused a ticket from New York to London in 2013.

Kuwait Airways said it had refused to sell a ticket to Gatt to avoid running afoul of Kuwaiti law, which prohibits its citizens from entering "into an agreement, personally or indirectly, with entities or persons residing in Israel, or with Israeli citizenship.”

Evelyn Sahr, a Washington lawyer representing the airline, said U.S. law does not authorize the department to enforce its consumer-protection provisions against Kuwait Airways, which "cannot lawfully comply with the terms" required by the department.

Jeffrey Lovitky, a Washington lawyer representing Gatt, urged the federal authorities to seek a court injunction preventing Kuwait Airways from flying to the U.S. Pursuing an administrative enforcement action could drag on for years, he said

The airline's conduct "is both unwarranted and unacceptable, and must come to an end now,” Secretary Foxx said on Tuesday.

“If the airline does not quickly and voluntarily alter its behavior, [the federal Department of Transportation] is prepared to use all tools at its disposal to protect the civil rights of passengers.”

Kuwait Airways officials refused to comment.