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Lufthansa apologises for expelling Hasidic Jews from flight

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Lufthansa apologised for kicking identifiably Jewish people off a flight from New York City to Budapest last week after some Hasidic individuals on the plane had reportedly not worn masks on the first leg of the flight.

Lufthansa said in a statement on Tuesday, 10 May, that it “regrets the circumstances surrounding the decision to exclude the affected passengers from the flight”.

The statement also said that the airline was still reviewing the incident, and regretted that “the large group was denied boarding rather than limiting it to the non-compliant guests”.

What Lufthansa referred to as a “group” were 100-plus Hasidic Jews, many of whom did know one another, flying to Hungary on a pilgrimage.

“Most people were flying as individuals,” passenger Usher Schik told the New York Jewish Week on Monday.

Lufthansa also apologised “not only for the inconvenience, but also for the offense caused and personal impact.”

The statement said that the German carrier had a “zero tolerance” policy for racism, antisemitism, and discrimination of any kind. “What transpired isn’t consistent with Lufthansa’s policies or values,” the statement said. “We will be engaging with the affected passengers to better understand their concerns and openly discuss how we may improve our customer service.”

In a video taken by a passenger, a Lufthansa supervisor in Frankfurt, Germany, where the first leg of the trip terminated, is seen explaining the expulsion by saying that “everyone has to pay for a couple”, adding, “It’s Jews coming from JFK [John F. Kennedy International Airport]. Jewish people who were the mess, who made the problems.”

The passengers were also banned from purchasing another ticket to Budapest for 24 hours.

The video, first reported and shared by the discount travel website Dan’s Deals, was posted to YouTube and Instagram, where it sparked angry comparisons to the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust.

The video, blurred because it’s illegal to record someone without their consent in Germany, was taken down for violating YouTube and Instagram’s hate-speech policies. It’s still available on Twitter.

“YouTube just removed our video showing a Lufthansa supervisor blaming problems on #TheJews due to it ‘violating our hate-speech policy’. Don’t stay silent on #AntiSemitism!” the tweet said.

The Jewish travellers on their way to Budapest to visit the grave of Rabbi Yeshayah Steiner, a wonder-working rabbi who died in 1925 and is buried in a village in northeast Hungary. According to Dan’s Deals, an estimated 135 to 170 Jews were on the flight, 80% of whom wore visible Hasidic clothing.

According to a statement from Lufthansa, there was a larger group of passengers that “refused to wear the legally mandated mask [medical mask] on board”.

“For legal reasons, we cannot disclose the number of guests involved in the incident,” the statement, obtained by Dan’s Deals, said. “Lufthansa will continue to abide by all legal requirements, including the mask mandate imposed by the German government and those of the countries served. We do so without prejudice and with the well-being of all our guests.”

Schik, told the New York Jewish Week that he was sitting in the front of the plane. He said he didn’t notice people not wearing their masks, but acknowledged that some passengers in the back of the plane might not have been complying.

“If you feel you have to punish individuals who didn’t comply, that’s fine,” Schik said. “But you can’t just punish an entire race just because we all look alike.” Schik said there were multiple groups on the flight, and most people didn’t know each other.

Schik said that when he arrived in Frankfurt from JFK, passengers on the flight were greeted by dozens of police officers waiting at the gate.

“We’re talking about some of them with big rifles,” Schik said. “We were really hurt and bothered by that.”

Schik said he wasn’t allowed to board the Budapest flight because he looked Jewish and was dressed in Hasidic garb. “They pulled up my name and then once they saw me, they denied me because I’m Jewish,” he said. “That’s clearly profiling.”

According to Dan’s Deals, an individual named Max Weingarten was able to board the plane to Budapest because he was wearing a black polo shirt and didn’t look like a Hasidic Jew.

Weingarten, who travelled in first class, said he wasn’t wearing a mask from JFK to Frankfurt, that nobody asked him to wear a mask, and the flight attendant wasn’t masked.

Eli Miesels, a Jewish man who wore a baseball cap and was able to board the plane to Budapest, told Dan’s Deals that the plane pulled away faster than he had ever seen. Miesels said the plane to Budapest took off with only 20 passengers but could hold more than 190.

Schik, too, said the captain left the gate “like it was a war zone”.

“He didn’t want to give anyone a chance to get people on the flight,” Schik said, pointing out that an attendant at the gate told him that the order to ban Jews from the next flight came from the captain of the plane.

He said he was “lucky” because he was able to rebook another flight to Budapest in spite of the 24-hour ban.

While in Budapest, he spoke to other Jews who flew to Vienna and took a bus to Hungary after being ejected from the Lufthansa flight.

Rabbi David Zwiebel of Agudath Israel of America, which represents Haredi Orthodox interests, wrote a letter to Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr on Monday asking that he research the “disturbing accounts” about the flight.

“People were being punished simply because they shared ethnicity and religion with the alleged rule violators,” Zwiebel wrote.

Lufthansa didn’t respond to the New York Jewish Week’s request for comment.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. yitzchak

    May 13, 2022 at 12:06 pm

    religious Jews must obey secular civil instructions.
    The Satmar cult is notorious for disobeying simple regulations and their conduct unbecoming and contempuous.
    I am a bit surprised that Jews who feel so deeply about the Holocaust should fly a German airline or land in Germany.
    Where was the leadership?

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