US rules Kuwait Airways must sell tickets to Israelis
A US government department has ruled Kuwait Airways unlawfully discriminated against a passenger travelling on an Israeli passport by refusing to sell him a ticket for a flight from New York to London, a ruling that challenges the international boycott of Israel.
Eldad Gatt, an Israeli citizen, was prevented from buying a ticket from New York's John F Kennedy Airport to London Heathrow on a Kuwait Airways flight in 2013 because the airline's online booking system prevented him from selecting Israel as his passport-issuing country.
He complained to the US Department of Transportation.
"We expect [Kuwait Airways] to sell tickets to and transport Israeli citizens between the US and any third country where they are allowed to disembark, based on the laws of that country," Blane Workie, the department's assistant general counsel for enforcement said in a letter to the airline last week on the department's ruling.
The department investigated and initially rejected Gatt's discrimination complaint, according to a statement and letter provided by transportation officials. But when Gatt appealed against the department's decision, the case was reopened and the department ultimately concluded the airline had violated a different federal law than the one initially cited by Gatt.
|We do not find Kuwait's interest in the enforcement of its laws to be greater than that of the US
- US Department of Transportation
"We considered Mr Gatt's claim upon an alternative ground... which holds that an 'air carrier or foreign air carrier may not subject a person, place, port, or type of traffic in foreign air transportation to unreasonable discrimination'," the letter said.
By refusing to transport Israeli citizens to and from the US and a third country that accepts Israeli citizens, in this case the UK, the airline is in violation of the law, the letter said.
"Any airline that wishes to operate in the US should know that we will not tolerate discrimination of any kind in our skies," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, according to US political website The Hill.
Kuwait Airways explained it was against the law in Kuwait to do business with any Israeli citizen or company, and that punishment for a violation could result in imprisonment and hard labour, according to the department.
However, the department's letter said that "we do not find the interest of Kuwait in the enforcement of its laws in this case to be greater than the interest of the United States in the enforcement of its laws.
"It is our view that the US interest in providing non-discriminatory access to air transportation to an individual travelling from the US to a third country that allows that individual's entry is greater than Kuwait's interest in applying its economic boycott of Israel."
The department said it was aware of another, similar complaint.
The department has given the airline 15 days to respond. A range of enforcement actions are possible, beginning with civil penalties.
While the ruling itself may have only limited direct application to particular airlines that boycott Israel and refuse to carry Israeli passengers, Tablet, an online Jewish news magazine, quoted Northwestern University law professor Eugene Kontorovich saying it was a "precedent that discrimination against Israelis under the name of 'boycott' is impermissible under US law".
He added: "The ruling is entirely indifferent to the fact that that Kuwait justifies its policies as not being against 'Israelis' as people, but based on its opposition to the policies of the State of Israel."