Editorial: Delta’s Not Ready When Jews Are?

JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIAL

“Delta is ready when you are,” is a longtime slogan for the U.S.-based airline, but recent press reports that the carrier has caved in to obnoxious anti-Israel and anti-Jewish policies of Saudi Arabia suggest, at first glance that a more apt slogan might be: “Delta’s not ready when Jews are.”

Delta’s policies came into focus over the past two weeks when World Net Daily, a website, reported that the airline is enforcing a Saudi ban on Jewish visitors by partnering with Saudi Arabian Airlines. While the issue is more complex than it might first appear, the concerns expressed by Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League that the airline might be complicit with anti-Israel and even anti-Jewish policies of the Saudi regime, are well-founded.

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Ron Kampeas’ JTA story of June 26 reports that the Delta flap occurred when Washington attorney Jeffrey Lovitky asked Delta what the implications were for Jewish passengers on Saudi Arabian Airlines joining the SkyTeam Alliance, a network of 14 airlines across the world.

Delta’s initial defense of its policies on these matters sounded especially lame. According to JTA, Kathy Johnston, a Delta staffer wrote to Lovitky in an April 28 letter, “While we fully understand and sympathize with your concerns, Delta has no control over the actions of the United States or any foreign country. If the government of Saudi Arabia engages in discriminatory practices in the issuance of travel documents to U.S. citizens, this is a matter which must be addressed with a local embassy as appropriate or with the U.S. State Department.” Further public relations efforts from Delta weren’t much better.

Kenneth Bandler, a spokesman for the national office of the American Jewish Committee, told JTA (see story on page 1A), “They’ve (Delta) joined in this policy of discrimination.” And Rabbi Jason Miller of Detroit wrote in the Huffington Post that the airline was trying to pass the buck.

“No, it’s not Delta’s fault that the Saudi government is anti-Semitic, but it doesn’t have to go along with it,” he wrote. “It’s as if the Saudis are telling Delta that when it comes to Jewish passengers, its name should become an acronym, ‘Don’t Even Let Them (Come) Aboard.'”

For its part, the Saudi government has said that it is not Saudi policy to deny entry to travelers with an Israeli stamp on their passports.” The JTA story by Kampeas notes that a U.S. State Department website includes a travel advisory that “there have been reports by U.S. citizens that they were refused an Saudi visa because their passports reflected travel to Israel or indicated that they were born in Israel.”

The ADL said that in the past, Saudi policies have been especially burdensome for Jewish travelers. “Saudi Arabia’s past practice of banning travelers with an ‘Israel’ stamp in their passport from gaining entry into the country runs contrary to the spirit and intent of Delta’s (own) non-discriminatory policy. While the practice affects all travelers who previously visited Israel, it has a disproportionate impact on Jewish passengers.”

Historically, Saudi Arabia has had an especially harsh policy not only against those who had visited Israel, but to non-Muslims of any background. Indeed, when Henry A. Kissinger became the first Jew to become U.S. Secretary of State, he had to receive special permission from the King of Saudi Arabia to visit Riyadh on diplomatic missions. Later, those policies were relaxed, and during the Persian Gulf War, when many Jews were among soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia, Jewish chaplains were allowed to serve the needs of the Jewish troops and to bring in religious objects as needed.

Similarly, Jews who worked in Saudi Arabia were allowed in with a Saudi version of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. As long as Jews did not overtly express support for Israel or attempt to worship openly, they were allowed to remain in the country.

Delta is hardly alone, Kampeas notes: “The arrangement is not unusual: other alliances mix U.S. and Saudi carriers.”

But while it may be unfair to single out Delta as the only acceptor of Saudi’s onerous policies and practices, we believe the American government and private carriers should embrace the ADL position: “We expect Delta, and any other American airline which flies to Riyadh or partners with an airline that flies there, to ensure that its passengers-whatever their faith-not be discriminated against, and that no American airline in any way enable or facilitate this discrimination, whatever the regulations of Saudi Arabia.”