Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Is Lufthansa Antisemitic?

Chasidic passengers greeted by police in Frankfurt (JTA)
This story is sweeping across just about all Jewish - and even some secular - media.  It is s sad story of what seems to be institutional antisemitsm in the 21st century. No one was killed or injured. But a 100 Chasidic passengers of a Lufthansa flight were collectively punished for the sins of the few. Who disregarded the airline’s mask mandate.

It has been called an antisemitic by virtually everyone. And if one watches the clip featured in the New York Post, its hard to argue with that. CBS reports the following:

In a statement, the airline acknowledged denying boarding to a large number of people and said it regrets the circumstances surrounding the event. The decision, it said, "resulted from multiple incidents of non-compliance with crew safety instructions, including not wearing masks." 

100 Chasidic Jews who did nothing wrong were punished collectively as Jews for what a very small number of them did . Hard to fathom a more blatant act of antisemitism than that.

In my view those Chasidim deserve more than an apology. They deserve to be compensated for the time lost, inconvenience, and embarrassment they suffered as a result. If this had happened to me, I would have been hurt and embarrassed. 

But the fact is that it didn't. Never. Not once in the hundreds of fights I have taken on a variety of airlines, including Lufthansa. I experienced only the kindest treatment from all the staff on all those airlines. 

It was obvious that I was Jewish. My Kipa gave that away.  If anything I sensed an increased amount of respect because of it. Without my ever saying a word, the staff seemed more sensitive to my needs than they did to the needs of other passengers. 

After I saw this story, I asked a few of my frequent flier friends, all of whom are Orthodox, if they ever experienced antisemitism. They all responded by saying their experiences were similar to mine. 

Which begs the question, Was what happened on that Lufthansa flight really antisemitism? Does Lufthansa harbor any ill feelings toward the Jewish people? Based on my experiences and those of my friends the answer would seem to be no. But based on what happened on that flight, the answer seems to be a clear, Yes! 

So what gives? 

Let me suggest a theory which does not excuse Lufthansa but might explain why it happened.

My personal experience on an airline with the more extreme elements of the Chasidic world is not a positive one. It is about an incident that I have referenced many times. Long story short, a large Chasidic family boarded the plane and proceeded to act like they owned it. Treating the  flight attendants like they were their personal servants. 

Their behavior embarrassed me and I apologized to the flight attendant most affected by their demands. She was very gracious in saying that she new not all Orthodox Jews were like this and that she was used to being treated that way by families like that. 

That did not make me happy. But it did make me understand how people that look like that might be discriminated against. Like I said it doesn’t make it right. But it explains it. In other words, you might say they were not so much antisemitic as they were antichasidic. And it might explain what the flight official meant by saying they experienced multiple incidents of non-compliance with crew safety instructions, including not wearing masks." 

I say this with no particular animus in mind. I say it by way of my own personal observation. The truth is that this is not the the first time Chasidic passengers were mistreated by an airline. As was the case not long ago where a group of Chasidic high school girls were treated the same way by KLM for similar reasons.  

It is also probably true that most Chasidim are not like that. Clearly the majority of those 100 passengers were not. But enough events like that have happened to make it a problem.

Agudah has sent a letter to the CEO of Lufthansa expressing their outrage. Rightfully so. But they were also clear in not condoning the violation of the rules by some of them that led to this incident. As they were about the inappropriate reactions by some of those who were prevented from boarding the flight.  They also acknowledged that there are always 2 sides to every story. 

I think that letter was appropriate and I hope Lufthansa makes appropriate amends. 

But if there is a lesson to be learned here, it is that a greater effort should be made Chasidic leaders to impress upon their Chasidm the importance of following the rules and in general not doing anything that makes them stand out in negative ways. Because I think that is what leads to stories like this one. Negative stereotypes emerge when enough people behave this way, even if they are only a small minority. And that hurts innocent people.