Senate Democrats this week called on the Departments of Transportation and Commerce to investigate whether two Middle East airlines are discriminating against passengers in the U.S. because they are Jewish or gay.
The senators noted that one passenger who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel, and another who is openly gay, have recently filed complaints that they were met with discrimination while trying to board flights on Saudi Arabian Airlines.
“As alleged by these individuals, the airline told the dual U.S.-Israeli citizen he would need special permission from the Saudi Arabian government, which he would have been unlikely to receive,” the senators wrote. “The airline also allegedly told him he should refrain from bringing Tefillin, which are Jewish religious articles, on board the aircraft.”
“Saudi Arabian Airlines allegedly told the gay passenger she should conceal her sexual orientation while traveling on the airline,” they added.
They said earlier this year, a woman with an Israeli passport was also refused entry to a Kuwait Airlines flight out of New York.
“According to reports of this incident, the airline refused to board the passenger because Kuwait Airways – which is owned by the government of Kuwait – refuses to recognize the State of Israel,” they wrote. “Yet the passenger was simply traveling to London.”
The letter was written by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). These senators noted that U.S. law gives the Department of Transportation the power to prohibit discrimination against passengers based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex or ancestry, and that the Department of Commerce has the power to prevent efforts to boycott Israel.
The senators said that in the past, the Department of Transportation has indicated that discrimination against passengers based on citizenship or passport status is technically legal, since that can be different than discrimination against national origin. But the senators dismissed that as a nuance that is allowing “unreasonable discrimination” against passengers.
“[N]othing appears reasonable about prohibiting a person from flying non-stop from New York to London simply because they have an Israeli passport,” they wrote.
“If you find these practices illegal, it is imperative that you proceed with immediate enforcement action and end such discriminatory behavior,” they concluded. “Any airline that ignores our laws should be punished to the maximum extent and possibly have their DOT-issued permit revoked that allows them to fly to and from U.S. airports.”