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March 10, 2016 12:34 pm

Kuwait Airways’ Ban on Israelis — The Cost of Doing Bigotry

avatar by Amanda Berman

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Kuwait Airways closed its New York-London route after the US Transportation Department demanded that the airline stop illegally discriminating against Israelis. Photo: Steve Fitzgerald via Wikimedia Commons.

Kuwait Airways closed its New York-London route after the US Transportation Department demanded that the airline stop illegally discriminating against Israelis. Photo: Steve Fitzgerald via Wikimedia Commons.

Can you envision a New York City where taxi drivers refuse to drive Chinese people? What about a New York City where airlines refuse to let Israelis fly?

One of these is not a hypothetical.

Since 1980, Kuwait Airways Corporation (KAC) has been under contract with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and granted permit authority by the US Department of Transportation (USDOT), to fly to and from JFK International Airport.

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But the privilege to operate out of JFK came with a price: an obligation to abide by Federal anti-discrimination and anti-boycott laws, as well as state human rights and contract laws. Under the US-Kuwait Open Skies Agreement and pursuant to the terms of its lease, KAC thereby became duty-bound to operate in compliance with all applicable laws in effect in New York State and the United States.

Astonishingly, these legal obligations have been defied since day one, as the airline refuses to sell tickets to Israeli nationals. Kuwait Airways is the flag carrier of the state of Kuwait, and is a state-owned entity. The state of Kuwait is a member of the Arab League and a staunch adherent to the Arab League boycott of Israel. Claiming that it must obey its domestic legal obligations to boycott Israel and the Israeli people, the airline has operated daily flights at JFK for more than 36 years, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue, while flagrantly and unabashedly violating the civil rights of Israeli nationals — and US law.

At the Lawfare Project, we have been leading the charge to demand equality in US air travel.

Last month, a Forbes contributor who writes on the aviation industry declared that it was “wrong” to “blame Kuwait Airways for discrimination against Israelis,” because the airline is simply an “unwitting pawn in the dispute [between Israel and the Arab world].” After going on an irrelevant and historically inaccurate tangent and justifying Kuwait’s adherence to the boycott of Israel by citing the Palestinian refugee situation, the author concluded that advocates and commentators should be addressing the Kuwaiti government directly to effectuate change, instead of “ranting against” the state airline. He also proclaimed his belief that “the media’s depiction of Kuwait Airways has been unfair and divisive.”

Each one of his suppositions is fatally defective, from his rationales to his conclusions. For example, since KAC is a state instrumentality, going after the airline is, for all practical purposes, the same thing as going directly to the Kuwaiti government. More importantly, in concluding that it is “wrong” to condemn the airline because national origin discrimination is compulsory under Kuwaiti law, the author takes the position that the airline has no choice.

Surely we can all think of international scenarios where state actors are required under their national laws to participate in — or even to lead — unjust and inhumane enterprises. That does not mean their actions will be tolerated in the United States; they don’t get a pass, legally or in the court of public opinion, just because they were “following orders.”

What would happen if Saudi flight attendants stoned accused adulterers at the Saudia ticket counter? Or if the Emiratis tortured political dissidents at the Etihad counter? Would the columnist consider the media’s “wrath” to be “misdirected” for condemning Qatar Airways if its flight attendant executed a gay man in the middle of JFK’s Terminal 8?

In a September 2015 “final agency determination,” the USDOT reversed its previous decision and determined that KAC’s actions unequivocally constitute unlawful discrimination. As Blane Workie, Assistant General Counsel for Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings at USDOT wrote in her communication to Lawfare Project Director Brooke Goldstein and to Kuwait Airways’ legal counsel, the USDOT “do[es] not find the interest of Kuwait in the enforcement of its laws in this case to be greater than the interest of the United States in the enforcement of its laws.”

It is naïve, misleading and plainly incorrect to suggest that the flag carrier of the state of Kuwait is just an insignificant, defenseless “pawn,” when in reality it is an arm of the Kuwaiti government itself.

The only way to break apart this type of institutional racism is to go after the purse strings and  commercially incentivize the orchestraters to abandon the boycott. Government agencies, individuals and corporations in Arab states that have stopped boycotting Israel did so because the legal and financial risks of refusing to deal with Israelis outweighed the ideological benefits. When the aforementioned Arab states decided they wanted their international corporations to operate globally, they opted out of the government-mandated boycott of Israel. Their economies have reaped the benefits.

Kuwait has obviously not learned this lesson yet, since its airline terminated its flights from New York to London instead of coming into compliance with Federal anti-discrimination law and admitting Israelis on KAC flights. The loss of revenue that KAC will suffer from the cancellation of this lucrative flight path demonstrates the vehemence with which many Arab League countries comply with the boycott of Israeli nationals, products and businesses. Apparently, this government-owned airline would much prefer a gigantic loss of revenue to the simple alternative of allowing Israelis on board their aircraft.

Luckily for those of us who value civil rights and equality in air travel and beyond, refusing to fly on Kuwait Airways’ flights does not present a tough choice. Even Kuwaitis prefer other airlines to their own flag carrier, which maintains an outdated fleet and lacks sufficient trained personnel to ensure that the planes remain operational.

Whether Kuwait Airways’ flights are safe for passengers is above this commentator’s pay grade. But one thing is for sure: It’s safe to say that Israelis aren’t missing much.

Amanda Berman is an attorney and the Director of Legal Affairs at The Lawfare Project, a New York City-based legal think tank combatting lawfare — the abuse of the law as a weapon of war against Western democracies.

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  • This is ridiculous. If an airline had refused to carry Blacks, they would be expelled from the US.

  • mickey

    Israelis will not board a kuwaiti airline anyway because tjey cant effort to land in a country that do not have an israeli embacy or a minimal relationship. If they do they will not use an israeli passport.
    In any case the kuwaities are just hurting Israeli arabs that may want to travel…

  • Jessy

    1: KAC respected the US law by dropping the route.
    2: Kuwait and many other countries in the world don’t recognize Israel as state therefore there was no discrimination against race, color, or religion, As KAC carries customers from every religion & ethnicity.
    3:JFK-LHR route wasn’t generating money for KAC 4 other routes will be dropped as part of its restructuring plan,
    4:Most of KAC planes are brand new with excellent amenities & another 35 new planes expected to start joining the fleet later this year.
    5: If you say Israelis aren’t missing much then why make a big deal of it? It’s because of the anther bigotry And the passenger who by the way didn’t purchase his ticket from KAC but from Air India and he knew that the airline won’t carry him with his Israeli passport but decided to go and make a problem hopping to get some money from KAC. Kudos to KAC for standing up to bigotries.

    • Labarynth

      You are an idiot. Congrats your post made my day. Accusing the Israeli of bigotry because he wants equal rights lmao.

      • Jessy

        Labarynth it is you the diot who thinks occupying another country and slaughtering its people is ok then calling it another name and then people around should accept that!! And not discriminate against hahahaha

  • A Zionist

    Martin Rivers complains that his article has been unfairly criticised. After all, he is only an aviation journalist. This is rather like claiming that an act cannot be deemed antisemitic because the perpetrator does not believe the act is antisemitic.

    It is clear that Mr Rivers is either ignorant or disingenuous. In 1948, the Arabs States expelled and dispossessed 856,000 Jews because they were Jews. They technically became refugees. A slightly lower number of Arab refugees (around 700,000) were also displaced. The difference is that the Jewish refugees were largely absorbed into the Jewish State. By contrast, the Arab refugees were refused citizenship and have been abused by their Arab brothers, to be used as a political pawn to attack Israel. It is also clear that one day following Israel’s Declaration of Independence, five Arab countries attacked and invaded. 600,000 Jews (of whom 400,000 were Holocaust survivors) were pitted against 350 million Arabs. Israel lost 1% of her population in the War of Independence. Prior to Independence, the Secretary General of the Arab League promised the Jews, “a momentous massacre and a war of extermination.” This was 3 years after the Holocaust and the world watched and did nothing. But, the Jews beat the Arab armies in a humiliation and shame from which they have never recovered.

    The fault totally lies with the Arab States who refused to recognise the existence of the Jewish State and its right to exist. It is hypocritical to try to claim that somehow Kuwait airlines is innocent of its blatant antisemitism.

    Today, being accused of Racism is the worst crime – except when incomes to Jews and the Jewish State. In this context, excuses and explanations are given to cover up what would never be allowed were this to be racism of colour or “Islamophobia.”

    I doubt that Mr Rivers would defend El-Al should it declare that its planes were going to be Muslim or Arab free. We also know that this would never happen since Israel and El-Al are not filled with institutional racism that exists in the Arab and Muslim world. Even where Jews do not live (eg Pakistan), the level of antisemitism is almost 100%.

    Mr Rivers, I suggest that since it was you who decided to give Kuwait Airlines a “get-out-of-jail-free-card” you accept that those who live with antisemitism daily will cry outrage by your feeble attempts to extricate yourself from the sewer that is antisemitism.

    • Martin Rivers

      This seems like an appropriate moment to point out that I have Jewish heritage on both sides of my family tree (Hungarian and Austrian). Comments like yours that associate me with “the sewer that is antisemitism” say much more about yourself than they do about me. They are disgraceful.

      I believe that almost any disagreement can be solved, provided both parties have sincere respect for the other side’s opinion and perspective. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no different: both sides have valid grievances, and a compromise is there to be reached if mutual respect can be harnessed. Unfortunately, that respect is sorely lacking in many Jewish and Arab communities. I hope that moderate voices on both sides prevail above the clamour of jingoistic radicals like yourself.

  • Quicha

    If they are still flying, the line should be shut down. There was a condition, and it was not honored. We will never get rid of nationalism/ racism if we don’t stand up for our values. I wonder though, are Arab Israelis not allowed to fly KAC?

  • stevenl

    This is one example of the overt war of the West against Israel.

  • “Antisemitism, antisemitism” this what we hear from you Jews
    all day long. The fact that the Jewish religion incites to crimes against humanity in their holy Halakhot, is conveniently denied.
    Shame on you for not blowing the whistle!

    Harvard proffessor Noah Feldhman, married outside the clan, became ostracized, and took revenge by exposing his Yeshiva
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/22/magazine/22yeshiva-t.html?pagewanted=4&_r=3&ei=5087&em&en=4f9d372ba8aa7e8a&ex=1185336000
    ” If you intended to save the patient’s life so as to facilitate
    good relations between Jews and non-Jews,
    your actions were permissible. But if,
    to the contrary, you intended to save the patient out
    of universal morality, then you were in fact guilty of
    violating the Sabbath,”

  • Other Arab airlines,also members of the Arab League, do not have a problem with Israely passengers, Kuwaits government has a different reason to boycott Israel. It’s to do with the
    It’s Palestinian advisers .

  • Lia

    The thing is this: nations, countries, organisations & individuals that/who mess with Israel are simply looking for trouble. See Genesis 12: 3. (I am not an Israeli and I do not live in Israel.)

  • HaroldT

    I cannot understand how any Jew would fly on these Arab airlines, not just Israeli’s.
    Selling your soul for a few bucks saved ?

  • Hi Amanda – I’m the author of the Forbes article you cited. A couple of points for your attention:

    1. You state that my article contained “historically inaccurate” information, but you don’t explain what it is. Can you please highlight these historical inaccuracies?

    2. You state that my article “[j]ustifies Kuwait’s adherence to the boycott”. This is factually incorrect. My exact words were that the “Arab League’s ongoing boycott of Israel can at least be understood – if not defended”. A correction in your article would be appreciated.

    3. You’ve argued that lobbying against KAC is the same as lobbying against the Kuwaiti government, because it’s a state-owned flag-carrier. That’s a reasonable stance. However, can you explain the logic behind going after a parastatal, rather than going after the true source of the controversy?

    My article was criticised by some readers who seemed offended at any attempt to defend KAC. It should be put in context by readers: I am an aviation journalist, writing about aviation matters. I oppose scapegoating KAC just in the same way that I oppose any attempt to clip the wings of El Al. (In fact, I recently interviewed El Al’s CEO – http://www.economist.com/blogs/gulliver/2015/07/aviation-israel – which rather derails the allegations of anti-semitism made against me by some readers.)

    Let politicians deal with politics, and let airlines deal with flying.

    • Michael Garfinkel

      who does this guy Rivers think he’s kidding?

      “Let politicians deal with politics, and let airlines deal with flying.”

      In this, his closing statement, he is suggesting that, well, so what, really, if there are certain classes of people (in this case Israeli Jews) whom this airline illegally prevents from boarding.

      Violations of Federal anti-discrimination and anti-boycott laws? It’s all about “politics” – presumably a matter for politicians to sort out.

      Keep ’em flying folks!

      My guess is that Rivers is less an anti-Semite than he is a moral idiot.

    • Abraham Miller

      Would Mister Rivers make the same argument if Kuwait Airlines refused to fly black people, homosexuals, or some other group? If the Department of Motor Vehicles segregated clients by race, would he say that the issue was not the Department of Motor Vehicles but the state authority. In the lunch counter sit-ins in Woolworths in North Carolina would Mister Rivers have defended Woolworths as only segregating people because the state law required it. I saw no one make that argument in the Sixties, even though Woolworths was a private corporation. When it comes to Jews, there is always a rationale for abuse.

    • SteveHC

      KAS has not been “scapegoated” by ANYONE. It deliberately violated U.S. law and deliberately refused to change its behavior in these regards.

    • stevenl

      That reminds me of someone who has decided to pick and chose which laws to respect or not respect. This is not new.

    • Evan

      But the airlines are not “dealing with flying,” Mr. Rivers; they are dealing in politics.

      Your defense seems rather disingenuous and telling, once again drawing false equivocations between Israel and a Muslim country. El Al adheres to aviation policy; KAC doesn’t.

      Do you have a record of KAC execs contesting their government’s mandate? Did they even apologize for such agregious international discrimination, even on a PR level, or are you merely feeding your readers some toothless excuse on their behalf?

      No, KAC’s agenda and yours (though cloaked in denial) are quite apparent.

    • Michael G.

      Martin Rivers,

      You are apparently contradict yourself by saying: Let politicians deal with politics, and let airlines deal with flying.
      Because, in this particular case, Kuwait’s Airways is enforcing political will of the government. So, instead of dealing with flying, it is directly deals with politics.

      Therefore, it MUST BE BANNED FROM FLYING TO ANY USA DESTINATION.

    • Sam

      Checked your article on economist – there is nothing relevant to this topic. Are you cross marketing your writing???

    • Amanda

      Hi Martin,

      Your questions can mostly be answered directly above, but to highlight the relevant parts:

      Points 1 and 2:

      “After going on an irrelevant and historically inaccurate tangent and justifying Kuwait’s adherence to the boycott of Israel by citing the Palestinian refugee situation, the author concluded that advocates and commentators should be addressing the Kuwaiti government directly to effectuate change, instead of “ranting against” the state airline.”

      By citing the Palestinian refugee situation as the justification for the Arab League boycott, you demonstrate a lack of understanding of basic history. The displacement of Arab Palestinians was the result of a war waged on the Israeli people after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. But the Arab boycott of Jewish products started as early as 1922 and became official Arab League policy in 1945. So, a later occurrence cannot be the cause of an earlier-instituted policy. Your justification would be outrageous even if it made logical sense, but unfortunately, it does not. In the future you might also consider the million Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands in the same time period who did not respond with economic warfare against an entire class of people.

      Further, as a journalist whose livelihood literally depends on semantics, I presume you know that “defending” and “justifying” are not the same thing. It is pretty clear that you intended to justify, if not defend, the Arab League boycott, based on the plight of the Arab Palestinian refugees.

      Point 3:

      Please re-read above paragraph:

      “The only way to break apart this type of institutional racism is to go after the purse strings and commercially incentivize the orchestraters to abandon the boycott. Government agencies, individuals and corporations in Arab states that have stopped boycotting Israel did so because the legal and financial risks of refusing to deal with Israelis outweighed the ideological benefits. When the aforementioned Arab states decided they wanted their international corporations to operate globally, they opted out of the government-mandated boycott of Israel. Their economies have reaped the benefits.”

      Finally, I think those criticizing you as anti-Semitic are doing so based on the fact that “any attempt to defend KAC” seems questionable, since, as I tried to articulate above, KAC’s actions are wholly indefensible. While I don’t see how interviewing the CEO of an Israeli airline demonstrates that you are not anti-Semitic, I did not and would not call you anti-Semitic. My issues with your piece are much more substantive: I simply think you are wrong.

      Amanda

  • Test

    It appears that the route is still operating. Check out KU102 JFK-LHR.

    • David Cohen

      You, Mr. Aviation Journalist, can make excuses for defending bigotry and state and religious generated hate, but it is not intellectually poignant. Be a morally upright journalist and stand down. Why make excuses for a hate generating country that regulates its airline?

      David Cohen
      Retired, newspaper publisher/owner.

  • Omar

    I’d like to know your opinion regarding Arab passengers being discriminated against by EL AL security staff at JFK. Especially when one security staff demands that one passenger must not leave his sight, even to go to the toilet!

    • chaya

      i havent heard the story so cant comment on that specific incident. however, on the last flight that i took with El Al there were more arabs than jews on it…
      also, is this El Al’s policy? or more of a concern of one staff member? thats an important difference

    • John

      What a silly analogy. The bottom line is that Jews don’t blow up planes. It’s actually that basic

    • SteveHC

      Were you refused tge opportunity to purchase a ticket from El Al? Or were you refused permissiin to board? If not, then the sutuatiins are NOT the same.

      Nevertheless, if you felt that you were discriminated against then why not formally complain to relevant US agencies and/or file a lawsuit?

    • Ron

      I am an American Jew and I have been questioned at length by security personnel not only on El Al but a couple of other airlines who fly between the U.S. and Israel. That’s not discrimination. It’s a precaution considering that Arabs have not only skyjacked planes but have blown them up and killing innocent people. Sorry, Omar, but we’ll both have to live with it rather than die for a discriminatory cause foisted on the flying public by an anti-Israel murderer.

    • Quicha

      Probably, that is why there is no teracts in EL AL? Why do you find it offensive though? When I go through the security in the airport I get checked from head to toe, I never get offended. I always think – better you check, safer I am.

    • Sara Al-Habi

      prove that

    • Sam

      Omar,

      good point – this shouldn’t have happen. A couple additional points:
      1. Those passengers were not refused servis, unlike on KAC
      2. There hasn’t been one Jewish terrorist who highjacked an airplane, can you say the same for arabs?

      what say you?

    • Mike

      95% of terrorism in Israel is committed by Arab Muslims, there is nothing wrong with double-checking people who may present a threat.
      There’s not a single Arab country that has a peaceful relationship with Israel (not to mention that Israeli’s are not even allowed to ENTER most Arab country’s), so there’s nothing wrong with extending the security measurements when it comes to Arabs in Israel.
      Arabs can only blame themselves.

    • Steven

      Using the security factor as a way of bashing Israel is so low, even for you, Arabs… At least El-Al does not prevents Arabs from using their services! In general, El-Al does not discriminates against Arabs!!! El-Al has many Arab employees and passengers, can you show me one Arab airline where Israelis are even allowed to work in??? Go take your lies somewhere else, please.

  • Excellent work by The Lawfare Project. Shame on Kuwait. Neither that country or its wholly-owned airline are ‘unwitting pawns’ in this odious and illegal discrimination against Israelis.

  • June Getraer

    This is the Israel that took the influx of Scud missiles at the request of the US during the first Iraq war in its defense of Kuwait!

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