It’s proving “divisive” to inform Israeli women that they don’t have to move seats for ultra-Orthodox men

El Al airlines, Israel’s national carrier.
El Al airlines, Israel’s national carrier.
Image: Reuters/Amir Cohen
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In Israel, it’s illegal to force a female passenger to move their seat on a bus or plane to accommodate the wishes of an ultra-Orthodox male passenger. That is not up for debate. However, an advertisement reminding female passengers of this right has proved divisive.

The Guardian reports that the Israel Airports Authority (IAA) has refused to display advertisements which remind women that forced seat changes on the grounds of gender are illegal.

The ads—which read, in part, “Ladies, please take your seat … and Keep it!”—were intended to be displayed in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport during the busy Passover travel period. According to reporting by Haaretz, the sponsoring Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) said the ads were approved by the relevant authorities before it received notice that they wouldn’t be displayed after all. A spokesman for the IAA claimed the reason was not down to this specific campaign, but rather a policy steering away from “political or divisive” ads.

Whether or not an ad reminding passengers of their legal rights can be deemed political is debatable. But IRAC has a valid enough reason to try to run the ads. Israel’s national carrier, El Al, has a history of asking women to move their assigned seat at the request of a male passenger. Last June, an Israeli court ruled in favor of a holocaust survivor, Renee Rabinowitz, who sued the airline for gender discrimination and was represented by IRAC.

The airline was given six months to comply with the ruling, in which a judge noted that “under absolutely no circumstances can a crew member ask a passenger to move from their designated seat because the adjacent passenger doesn’t want to sit next to them due to their gender.”

IRAC said its ads were intended to ensure that women know that forced seat changes are not kosher—and that the airline had updated its practices.