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 ↑
A New York City mayoral candidate is blasting Saudi Arabian Airlines for refusing service at the city’s airports to holders of Israeli passports.
Lovitky called attention to Delta Air Lines’ practice of imposing Saudi Arabia’s Islamic rules on passengers boarding its flights from Washington and New York bound for the Islamic kingdom.
Later he raised the very concern now being addressed by de Blasio when he challenged a Saudi Arabian Airlines decision to violate the nondiscrimination laws that apply when jets land in the United States.
Lovitky’s criticism of Delta developed when he was working under a cooperative agreement with Saudi Arabia to feature flights directly to the kingdom. But to do that, Delta was asking passengers about their religious affiliation, since Saudi Arabia does not allow Jews to enter.
Eventually, Delta agreed not to ask the questions.
WND reported two months ago that Lovitky had dispatched a letter to Khalid A. Almolhem, director general of Saudi Arabian Airlines in Jeddah.
“The purpose of this letter is to request that Saudi Arabian Airlines immediately discontinue its practice of refusing to sell tickets to persons of Israeli nationality,” he wrote, citing the company’s online ticketing procedures.
“The website requires the ticket purchase to identify the nationality of the passenger from a dropdown list which reflects every nationality, except for Israeli. It is impossible to purchase a ticket unless the nationality of the passenger is selected from the list on the dropdown screen. As a result, persons of Israeli nationality are precluded from purchasing a ticket through the Saudi Arabian Airlines website.”
Officials at the airline’s offices in Jeddah could not be reached immediately, but a screen capture of the website showed there is no option for a person to identify themselves as Israeli.
Lovitky said while Saudi Arabia has a right to deny visas to Israeli citizens, the kingdom’s own rules do not require a visa if the passenger is traveling through Saudi Arabia en route to another location, such as someone wanting to travel from New York to Mumbai through Jeddah.
“However, an Israeli national cannot purchase a ticket on Saudi Arabian Airlines between New York and Mumbai, even if the passport of the Israeli national contains the appropriate visa endorsements from the government of India.
“Simply put,” he wrote, “Saudi Arabian Airlines refuses to sell tickets to Israeli nationals, regardless of which country they are going to.”
The Post reported Monday that it had learned that Saudi Arabian Airlines “oversight” doesn’t appear accidental because the drop-down menu is so thorough it even has an option for Antarctica.
De Blasio, who expressed alarm, told the newspaper: “No city in the world has closer ties to Israel than we do, and yet Israeli citizens are being discriminated against right here at JFK. It’s not only illegal; it’s an affront to who we are.”
He said he’s written to the airline demanding an end to the practice.
The report said a member of de Blasio’s staff called the airline requesting a ticket from JFK to Mumbai, India. He was told that was impossible, even though the carrier flies there.
It apparently was because the caller identified himself as Israeli.
“Do you have any other passports, other than the Israeli passport?” the agent asked.
The Post reported that when the agent was told no, he said, “Since you have Israeli nationality, you will not be allowed to go on Saudi Airlines.”
U.S. federal law, however, requires that an airline that lands its jets in the U.S. “may not subject a person in air transportation to discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex or ancestry.”
WND reported that the Civil Rights Act addresses the issue, as does Title VI.
Copies of Lovitky’s letter also went to the Department of State, Department of Transportation, the Saudi Arabian Embassy and others.
It was in 2011 when the earlier dispute arose. 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, Delta officials promised not to ask anyone about their religious affiliation.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles said in a statement 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 U.S.-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 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 at the time, “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.
The controversy became public after Lovitky 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 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 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 in a statement.
“Liars,” said Pamela Geller on her Atlas Shrugs blog. She noted that on Delta stated on its own website, “The government of Saudi Arabia refuses admission and transit to nationals of Israel.”
Delta’s website also stated, “Visitors holding passports containing any Israeli visa or stamp could be refused entry.”