Lufthansa denied boarding to more than 100 Jewish passengers in Frankfurt, Germany, on May 4. The men were not allowed to board flight #LH1334 from Frankfurt to Budapest, Hungary, a continuation of a flight from NY JFK.
An Orthodox Jewish “couple” failed to meet Lufthansa mask requirements on flight from JFK. But in Frankfurt, scores were denied boarding by German police armed with machine guns in an incident denounced as collective punishment.
They were part of a group of 150 Orthodox Jews who had flown on Lufthansa from New York on flight LH401 (a Boeing 747-8) to the Frankfurt airline hub, where they would transfer to a flight to Budapest.
The men, many of whom were traveling separately, were on a religious pilgrimage to a Hungarian town formerly known as Kerestir. There they would observe the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner, a Hasidic leader of thousands considered a miracle worker.
While “some” of the passengers had violated the German mask mandate, “more than a hundred” men were denied boarding passes, most of whom, according to The Independent, “were wearing orthodox Jewish clothing or had names that They looked like Jews.” According to the popular points and miles blog DansDeals, which originally reported on the incident, “Two dozen armed police officers made sure no Jews boarded the flight or caused any trouble at the gate.”
One passenger thought it was a clear case of anti-Semitism on the part of Lufthansa employees. Nachman Kahana stated: “They explicitly said that no one who is dressed the same on that plane will board the Lufthansa plane to Budapest. They banned us because we are Jews. That is the only reason.
Lufthansa disputed the claims, saying the men were not allowed to board due to their breach of German mask rules. But a telephone video emerged, with a Lufthansa supervisor telling a Jewish passenger that those who were banned are “JFK Jews.” The supervisor was recorded saying: “It’s the Jews who made the mess, who created the problems, everyone has to pay for a pair.”
A week after the incident, Lufthansa finally officially apologized, the Twitter.
“Lufthansa regrets the circumstances surrounding the decision to exclude the affected passengers from the flight, for which Lufthansa apologizes. While Lufthansa is still reviewing the facts and circumstances of that day, we regret that the large group was denied boarding rather than limited to guests who did not comply.”
“What happened is not consistent with Lufthansa’s policies or values. We have zero tolerance for racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination of any kind.”
The repetitive apology satisfied few. DansDeals pointed to nine problems with the apology, including the non-acknowledgment of “anti-Semitic hate speech” and “racial profiling of more than 130 passengers”, not to mention the pilot’s refusal to take Jewish passengers to Budapest.
The Anti-Defamation League tweeted: “This lack of apology does not admit blame or identify the banned passengers as Jews. He also refers to them as a group, although many were strangers. They had one thing in common: being visibly Jewish.”
“As well as investigating, ensuring accountability and taking action to repair the damage, including compensating victims where possible, Lufthansa, as a German company, has a special responsibility to educate its staff.”
ADL Director Emeritus Abraham Foxman was a child in hiding during the Holocaust. He tweeted: “Lufthansa needs to take a deep breath and take a serious look at its culture, which tolerates such recent outrageous anti-Semitic behavior by its staff. The apology also needs serious revision. Germany needs to do better, they can do better, a lot of people are waiting.”
Finally, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr got serious in a private video call with Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, rabbi of the Berlin Jewish community. DansDeals quoted Spohr as saying “this incident should never have happened and the employees involved have been suspended, pending the airline’s investigation of what happened.”
Spohr also reportedly noted “that the airline’s refusal to transport Jews on the flight was not acceptable and that the words used by the Lufthansa employee about punishing all Jews on the flight for the sins of a few.” They were not company policy or acceptable behavior.”
It is unclear how the private phone call will translate into further action by Lufthansa.
COVID-19 has already resulted in ugly racial bias, slurs, and violence against Asians in the United States. Battles over masks have resulted in injuries to flight attendants and passengers, arrests and fines.
Airlines do not create COVID-19 mask mandates. Government health departments, like the CDC in the United States, do. But airline staff enforce the mandates, a process that led to thousands of unruly passenger incidents across the United States until a federal judge struck down the CDC’s mask mandate as too broad on April 18. The Biden Administration has made noise about suing to restore home use. mask mandate, but so far this has not happened.
For people to comply with a mask mandate, they must feel that it will be applied evenly and fairly to everyone. On a recent flight, I didn’t see any conflict between passengers who were wearing masks and those who weren’t.
But instead of punishing a couple of people who refused to comply with the mask mandate, Lufthansa denied boarding to more than a hundred passengers because they were ‘visibly Jewish’.
Injustices have been taking place throughout the airline industry since long before COVID-19. But when they do occur, especially if they involve discrimination based on religion, race, gender, sexuality, national origin, or other characteristics, they cannot be excused or ignored. They must be addressed, investigated and excused.