Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
Less than two months after WND broke the story about a plan that would have Delta Air Lines impose Saudi Arabia’s Islamic rules on Americans in Washington and New York in order to fly directly to the Muslim kingdom, officials for Delta have promised not to ask anyone about their religious affiliation.
A statement from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles reports that the airline, following a meeting with center officials, wrote in a letter to the center that, “Delta employees do not currently and will not in future, request that customers declare their religious affiliation. We would also not seek such information on behalf of any Sky Team partner or any airline.”
The letter from Andrea Fischer Newman, senior vice president of government affairs, followed a meeting between Delta officials and Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the center about the airline’s policy.
“Delta has now done the right thing, sending a signal to the Saudis that it will not cooperate with Riyadh’s policy of religious apartheid,” Cooper said. “We hope that all other US-based airlines and around the world will declare and follow a similar policy.
“We also urge the Obama administration to lead the way in demanding that the Saudis drop their overt policy of religious discrimination,” Cooper said.
The airline declined to respond to a request from WND for a comment on the situation, or to explain how such a commitment might affect its present contractual arrangements with Saudi Arabian Airlines for Delta to fly into the closed kingdom.
But actor and talk radio host Fred Grandy, who raised the issue before members of Congress, told WND, “Delta passengers have won a significant victory over creeping Shariah. Hopefully, what the Saudis have learned from this experience is that while international corporations and government officials may look the other way at religious discrimination, American air travelers will not.”
The meeting and statements followed weeks of mounting criticism from Jews, Christians, Hindus and others who may have been targeted by Delta’s procedures.
“What would happen if a leading U.S. carrier voluntarily allows itself to be hijacked by bigots in order to open a new market? For example, what if it entered into an agreement with a foreign airline that would see to it that no blacks or Catholics or gays boarded code-shared flights destined to reach the partner’s home nation?” he wrote.
“That is what Delta Airlines appears to have done when your company announced plans to add Saudi Arabian Airlines to your SkyTeam Alliance. You see, under their rules, they require that Delta ban Jews and holders of Israeli passports from boarding flights from New York or Washington bound for Jeddah.”
He continued, “Mr. Anderson, I know that Delta cannot make any sovereign nation change its laws, but did anyone hold a gun to your head to cut this deal? Did you utter a word of protest during your negotiations with your partners over the Judenrein policies of Saudi Arabia? Did you ask Secretary of State Clinton to try to intervene in this matter?
“I’ll tell you what the Simon Wiesenthal Center is doing. We are drawing a straight line to the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to ask that Congress to check into the deal to see which laws Delta may have broken. But what is already clear is that Delta has broken the trust of American Jewry and degraded the cherished right of religious freedom.”
The episode involving Delta became public after a Washington attorney questioned the airline about its plans to discriminate – on the U.S. soil of Washington and New York airports – against Jews and prevent them from boarding flights to Saudi Arabia – based on the religious discrimination present in that nation.
The American Center for Law and Justice called on the Federal Aviation Administration and Congress to investigate the relationship between Delta Air Lines and Saudi Arabian Airlines over the government-owned Saudi operation’s discrimination against Jews.
And ACLJ chief Jay Sekulow noted that U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., sent a letter to the FAA requesting a probe into the matter “to determine whether Delta Air Lines violated U.S. law or regulation and to ensure no U.S. citizen is denied their right to fly solely on the basis of their religion.”
The organization said, “Delta is spinning hard” on the concerns, “claiming that it does not discriminate.”
“But this spin falls apart in the face of Delta’s previous statements. On January 10, 2011, Delta issued a press release stating that Saudi Arabian Airlines was joining SkyTeam, a select group of airlines that Delta trumpets as ‘a global airline alliance providing customers from member airlines access to an extensive global network with more destinations, more frequencies and more connectivity.’”
The ACLJ asked, “So why is this a problem? Simply put, Saudi Arabia (in addition to being a hub of terrorist financing and so radical that its religious police force girls to burn to death rather than escape a school fire without their abayas) is known to blatantly discriminate in its visa policies.”
It continued, “Delta can’t control Saudi Arabia’s immigration policy, but it can control whether it does business with Saudi Arabia.”
The Washington attorney who raised the original questions, Jeffrey Lovitky, told WND that he got a brushoff from the airline when he questioned its actions.
He said the airline may be doing what it considers a business practice, but that doesn’t necessarily make it right; and that perhaps no airline should be allowed to operate direct flights from the United States because of the Saudi restrictions on the other end.
The dispute involving Delta erupted when a series of Lovitky’s letters became public. He was complaining about the arrangement that apparently would have Delta prevent Jews and possibly others from boarding flights to Jeddah from New York and Washington.
The airline has released a series of public statements defending itself as participating in “a standard industry” agreement, but it repeatedly has declined to respond to WND questions.
But the airline earlier boasted of its arrangements with Saudi Arabian Airlines: “We are honored that Saudi Arabian has chosen to link its future growth and success with Delta and our SkyTeam partners,” the airline’s Charlie Pappas, a vice president, said then.
“For Delta to form a business relationship with a country that has a disturbing record of human rights violations is not only problematic, but warrants further scrutiny from the federal government and Congress,” Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for ACLJ, said in a statement.
“Delta says it does not discriminate in its business practices, but then says it cannot control what other nations do. Delta can’t have it both ways. If you choose to do business with a government that discriminates on the basis of religion, ethnicity, and gender – you simply cannot brush it aside,” he said.
“We’re calling for FAA oversight of this deal and a congressional investigation. Delta can do the right thing – and cancel this business relationship, and it should.”
“It’s incumbent on all Christians, Jews and people who find discrimination abhorrent to make it clear to Delta that they will not fly on the airline,” he told WND, “until Delta withdraws from its alliance with Saudi Arabia.
“You have to wonder where the potential allies on the left such as Jesse Jackson, who have claimed to have experienced similar discrimination … why are they not speaking out. Where is the president, who endorsed the Ground Zero mosque, yet will not stand up for Christians and Jews.”
“This is outrageous, repugnant and illegal,” he said. He said Delta has joined President Obama in “kowtowing” to “nefarious Muslims.”
The dispute even pulled the Saudi government into the fray.
“Rumors being circulated via the Internet regarding passenger flight restrictions on Saudi Arabian Airlines are completely false. The government of Saudi Arabia does not deny visas to U.S. citizens based on their religion,” the government said on PRNewswire.
“Liars,” said Pamela Geller on her Atlas Shrugs blog. She noted that on Delta’s own website is the statement, “The government of Saudi Arabia refuses admission and transit to nationals of Israel.”
Delta’s website also states, “Visitors holding passports containing any Israeli visa or stamp could be refused entry.”
At Jihad Watch, the dispute was spelled out in a statement attributed to Detroit rabbi Jason Miller: “The issue here is one of principle. Delta isn’t being forced to include Saudi Arabian Airlines into its SkyTeam Alliance. In fact, Delta could stand on principle and refuse to include Saudi Arabian.”
“Creeping Shariah? Now [it is] jetspeed Shariah. Hat’s off to Delta. It looks like Delta will be the first Shariah-compliant airline in the United States,” Catherine Grandy said.
Katz noted, “As a Jewish man, I might not be able to fly on Delta Air Lines in the future.”
Fred Grandy told Katz that he spent time in Washington briefing members of Congress and other policy makers “on this kind of threat.”
“This creeping Shariah, economic jihad, gets you everywhere you turn,” Catherine Grandy said. “This is just not right. I’m sure this will be tested.”
Fred Grandy said there were several questions raised by the controversy, including would passengers continue to fly on Delta, what should the government do and the advance of Shariah in the United States.
“If this isn’t one landing strip at a time, I don’t know what is,” he said.
The challenge to Delta was raised by Lovitky, who told WND that he personally brought up the issue with the Delta CEO Richard Anderson when he discovered the plan while making travel arrangements. He said Anderson didn’t respond, but Kathy M. Johnston, a coordinator for the airline’s “Customer Care” did write a letter.
She blamed the plan to discriminate on Saudi Arabian requirements and said Lovitky should consult the State Department.
“Delta must also comply with all applicable laws in every country it serves and by the same token passengers are responsible to obtain the necessary travel documents required for entry into another country prior to their day of travel,” she wrote. “If a passenger travels without proper documents, the passenger may be denied entry into that country and our airline may be fined. Delta assumes responsibility for ensuring that each passenger boarding our aircraft has the proper documents for travel to their ticketed destination.”
Lovitky told WND that whatever discrimination the Saudis choose to enforce in their nation, it becomes a problem when Delta applies it to American citizens on American soil.
“Delta Air Lines acted in a purely voluntary manner in agreeing to this alliance with Saudi Airlines,” he wrote in a letter asking the Delta board to act on the matter. “Accordingly, Delta has made itself responsible for ensuring that passengers on any flight jointly operated with Saudi Airlines will not be subject to discrimination on the basis of their gender, religion, or any other inappropriate grounds.”
Restrictions could include clothing requirements for women and banning passengers from “carrying and reading religious literature of their choice.”
“This includes, but is not limited to, both Christian and Jewish sacred texts, such as the Old Testament and the New Testament, as well as any objects that reflect their religion, such as a cross necklace,” Lovitky said.
“You can imagine how foreign it is to our values as Americans,” he told WND. “To adhere to restrictions of this nature is extremely burdensome.
“This needs to be addressed in a way which is consistent with our Western values,” he said.
“I urge Delta to shun any reciprocal travel arrangements with Saudi Arabian Airlines until the government of Saudi Arabia provides assurances that persons who acknowledge being Jewish on their visa applications will be granted visas.”
He also was upset that Delta’s response to a followup letter was to say, “we respectfully consider this matter closed and we will not be responding to this matter again.”