- Previous coverage:
- Part 1, originally published on 5/8: OUTRAGEOUS: German Airline Bans Jews From Flying; Lufthansa Supervisor: It’s “Jewish People Who Were The Mess, Who Made The Problems, Everyone Has To Pay For A Couple!”
- Part 2, originally published on 5/10: Lufthansa’s Apology Takes Things From Bad To Worse With 9 Things That Remain Unaddressed; The Media Needs To Get This Story Right
- Part 3, originally published on 5/11: Lufthansa CEO Apologizes To Rabbi Of Berlin For Anti-Semitism On His Airline, Suspends Employees Involved
On May 3rd, nearly 130 Jewish passengers took a Lufthansa flight from JFK to Budapest, with a connection in Frankfurt. Some of them had bought group tickets, but others were traveling on their own.
There were some mask incidents among both Jews and non-Jews on the flight from JFK to Frankfurt, but Lufthansa apparently failed to write up incident reports identifying individual violators.
On May 4th, they denied boarding to 127 Jewish passengers going from Frankfurt to Budapest and the Lufthansa rebooking counter told many of them that they were banned from flying Lufthansa for 24 hours. Non-Jews were allowed onto the flight to Budapest and to other destinations.
The story was shocking, but also surprising was the utter dearth of coverage on it. There was nobody talking about what happened on the flight and nobody being interviewed on the record. Could this be happening in Germany in 2022? I decided to dedicate several days to investigating what happened. What I found out was even more chilling than I imagined.
While interviewing nearly 2 dozen passengers from the flight, I learned that 2 Jewish passengers in first class, one dressed in a polo shirt and another wearing a baseball cap, managed to make it onto the flight to Budapest. However I also learned that 3 Jewish passengers, 2 of whom had used miles for their flights, were paged to board the flight and then denied boarding due to their Hasidic dress. These denials at the gate were a key part of the story for several journalists at mainstream newspapers. There were also several non-Hasidic men, women, and children who were banned from Lufthansa for 24 hours, despite having worn masks on the previous flight.
While interviewing passengers I also heard mumblings about a video of a Lufthansa employee admitting that they banned the Jews. Sure enough, I eventually found the person who took that video and he allowed me to post it after blurring out faces and names to comply with German privacy laws. The video was even more chilling that I imagined, blaming the problems on the Jews and saying that they all had to pay for the crimes of a couple.
What followed next was a whirlwind of viral coverage on Twitter. Things got even more heated after YouTube and Instagram removed our video of the Lufthansa Supervisor’s comments, claiming the video was anti-Semitic.
To YouTube’s credit, they publicly admitted they got things wrong when they deleted the video, and they restored it:
confirming we reinstated your video & removed the warning from your channel! so sorry this happened, we absolutely should have taken into account the proper context when reviewing this the first time & we've passed this feedback along to improve future reviews.
— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) May 9, 2022
It took a week, but the story was finally picked up by media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, CBS News, Forbes, JTA, Haaretz, and others, including all major German media. Many passengers were nervous about speaking to newspapers that haven’t portrayed Hasidic Judaism in a very fair light in the past, but I pushed them to go on the record and for the most part, I think the papers were very fair and sympathetic in their coverage. Credit goes to those passengers who were willing to put their names out there in the mainstream media.
Lufthansa issued an apology that only made things worse, which caused the ADL to call them out for it. The truth is that they were likely caught between a rock and a hard place. Their lawyers didn’t want them admitting to guilt, which is needed in any meaningful apology.
Their “creative” solution was to apologize through a Rabbi in Berlin and let him know that they had suspended at least 1 employee involved, though only a 19 second video clip of that conversation has been made public. My assumption is that the things told to the Rabbi can’t be used against Lufthansa in a potential future lawsuit.
And while that may work from a legal standpoint, it did nothing to engender any goodwill among Jewish customers, who are likely to think twice before booking a future Lufthansa flight.
United tried a non-apology when they dragged Dr. Dao off their flight, but video evidence proved that they were at fault. They bit the bullet and apologized, which may have cost them more in a legal settlement, but it also placated angry customers. Lufthansa is clearly choosing another route.
Lufthansa is licensed by the US DOT to operate. I reached out to the DOT to ask about this case and how it might affect Lufthansa’s standing.
The DOT responded that federal law is clear that an airline is not allowed to discriminate or refuse passage on factors such as religion or race.
In 2015, the DOT banned Kuwait Airlines from flying between NYC and London as they refused to transport Israeli passengers on the flight.
The DOT told me that their Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) is responsible for enforcing the statutes that prohibit unlawful discrimination by airlines against air travelers and that the OACP is aware of the referenced incident and is investigating.
I asked United for comment on their relationship with Lufthansa given this incident, and they responded that I should reach out to Lufthansa for comment. Lufthansa has not responded to my requests for comment since what they wrote to me in the original post on the incident.
President Biden’s Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt is the special envoy to combat Anti-Semitism. She didn’t mince her words in an interview with NBC. And her reaction was similar to mine,
“When I first heard it, I said, ‘Oh, this must be wrong. Someone must be misreporting this. And then of course, it turned out to be precisely right — and worse than we even thought because we saw videos of Lufthansa employees, supervisors saying, well some of the Jews were bad, so all the Jews will suffer. Had it happened to any group, had it happened in this country to a group of Black people, or any place. It’s classic prejudice and classic anti-Semitism. Now, if any airline had done it, it would have been outrageous. But the terrible, awful irony of it coming from the German national airline was outrageous. My office and the State Department have been in touch with the people in the German government to talk about this, because these were American citizens. And the people with whom we’ve been in touch with, the people whose portfolio is combating anti-Semitism are very concerned about it…The first response of Lufthansa that they need better sensitivity training…they need a whole lot more than that.”
“A Black teenager gets in trouble. Instead of saying a teenager got in trouble, you say, ‘Oh, well that’s how Blacks are.’ A Jew does something? ‘That’s how Jews are,’” Lipstadt said. “A small number of people do something wrong and you claim that that’s the whole group.”
Congressman Christopher Smith is also meeting with Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt to keep pressure on Lufthansa.
US Representative Christopher Smith is seeking answers from @lufthansa on why all Orthodox Jews, including his constituents, were prohibited from flying.
Collective punishment is evidence of Antisemitic discrimination. It should never be tolerated.
Thank you Congressman Smith. pic.twitter.com/BLsqvjWeAX
— Joel M. Petlin (@Joelmpetlin) May 16, 2022
Most of the passengers on the flight have signed on to be represented by the American Center for Law & Justice on a pro-bono basis for a class action lawsuit against Lufthansa, though some have hired their own lawyers.
For now, Lufthansa isn’t rushing to issue any more apologies, but hopefully that will still be forthcoming at some point in the future. They also haven’t reached out to any of the passengers involved.
At this point, I think that I’ve done all I can and the mainstream media has done their role ensuring that the public knows what happened. Now it’s up to politicians, lawyers, and organizations like the ADL to pursue real change and hopefully a proper apology as well.