Israeli airline Israir sued for discrimination against five Arabs

Published October 2nd, 2015 - 07:47 GMT

The Israir airline and the Israeli Airport Authority were ordered to compensate five Arab Israeli passengers, one of whom was asked to leave a Tel Aviv–Eilat flight three years ago on the basis of a fictional and discriminatory security procedure.

According to a report on Channel 2, Israir invoked a purported profiling procedure banning groups of five or more “members of minorities” on a flight. (The expression refers to all minorities in Israel, but is often used as a euphemism for Arab Israelis.) In fact, no such procedure exists, and the court ruling indicated that the airline sought to boot the passenger because it needed his seat for a celebrity passenger.

The five friends were heading to Eilat in August 2012. They had passed security checks and boarded the plane, but one of them was called by the flight attendant and told that because of the security regulation, he or another member of the group would have to leave, the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court heard.

The complainant, Ayoub Abu Sbeit, said he was “shocked.”

“I explained to them we just flew with El Al a week earlier and were told nothing about this. But [a security] official was insistent and told me one of us must leave the plane immediately so it can take off,” he told Channel 2.

“I asked a flight attendant whether this was a normal procedure and he just said: ‘I won’t intervene,’” Abu Sbeit said.

Abu Sbeit also noticed a young man who was standing outside the plane and waiting for a place on the flight. The young man, Channel 2 reported, was later found out to be the brother of a celebrity singer.

Abu Sbeit told the plane’s security team he had no intention of leaving and went back to his seat. An Israeli lawyer who was on the plane told Abu Sbeit that the flight attendant’s demand was illegal.

The plane stayed on the ground for an hour, during which time Abu Sbeit and his friends were accosted by other people on the plane. The group refused to leave, and the plane ultimately took off for Eilat with them all on board.

Abu Sbeit and his friends sued Israir and the IAA. The airline initially claimed it was following the security instructions of the IAA. Officials at the IAA rejected this assertion, however. Israir tried to remove a passenger from the flight for its own reasons, and cited an invented security procedure as a ploy to do so, the IAA said.

The court ruled that both the Israel Airport Authority and Israir abused their security mandates, with an eye to enabling another passenger to fly at the expense of a member of a minority group who was on the plane.

“The defendants erred toward the complainants by violating the law banning discrimination, and discriminated against the complainants on the basis of their extraction,” ruled Judge Orly Soroker. “The defendants also erred against the complainants by not honoring their constitutional right for equality in receiving public service and humiliated the complainants in public. Jews and non-Jews are citizens with equal duties and rights in the State of Israel,” Soroker wrote.

Soroker told Israir and the IAA to pay compensation to Abu Sbeit in the amount of NIS 25,000 (about $ 6,500) and to each of his friends in the amount of NIS 20,000 (about $5,100).

Israir told Channel 2 in response that its security procedures were directed by the Shin Bet security agency. The IAA said it would study the verdict.


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