Another ‘dark Israel’ story from BBC World Service’s ‘Newshour’

The afternoon version of the March 7th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included a story (from 14:13 here) about a woman who is suing the El Al airline after having been asked to move to a different seat.Newshour 7 3 El Al story

“Renee Rabinowitz, an 81-year-old resident of Jerusalem who fled the Nazi-occupied Belgium in 1941, told The New York Times in an interview published this week that an ultra-Orthodox passenger on her flight from Newark to Tel Aviv in December didn’t want to sit beside a woman. A flight attendant offered her a different seat in the business class section to accommodate the man’s religious beliefs.”

‘Newshour’ presenter Razia Iqbal spoke with both Ms Rabinowitz and Noa Sattath, director of the inadequately introduced Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) which is acting on her behalf. Interestingly, in an earlier interview with Ha’aretz on the same topic, Ms Sattath stated that the issue is not confined to El Al or Israeli airlines.

“A religious advocacy group in Israel has launched an initiative to tackle the controversial issue of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men refusing to sit next to women on airplanes.

In a newsletter dated January 5, Anat Hoffman, the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, which describes itself as the public and legal advocacy arm of the country’s Reform Movement, told recipients that if action is not taken soon, “we may find ourselves going down a dangerous slippery slope.”

Hoffman is one of the leading figures behind Women of the Wall, the Jewish feminist prayer group. […]

According to its January newsletter, IRAC has contacted some 19 airlines this month that fly to and from Israel, and “invited them to meet with us so that we can help them “evolve their positions on this issue.” […]

“We know that for our public this is a big issue, and our public is Reform Jews, the biggest stream in the U.S.” IRAC is in discussions with a number of American organizations who are interested in joining the campaign, too, Sattah said.”

Razia Iqbal however chose to frame the story as being indicative of negative trends in Israeli society as a whole.

“Noa, I wonder if you would care to comment on what you think has shifted in Israeli culture and society that has made this sort of encounter that Renee has had more frequent.”

“Renee, when you listen to Noa put this into the context of this having been a shift that’s taken place over the last 15 to 20 years […] what are your reflections on that cultural shift that’s taken place?”

Neither Razia Iqbal nor her interested party interviewee from IRAC provided any factual, quantified evidence to support that anecdotal assertion of a “shift” in Israeli society and neither bothered to inform listeners that Israel’s High Court of Justice has ruled gender segregation unlawful. That of course means that listeners were herded towards accepting the claim put forward as fact.

Notably, when the BBC has reported on stories concerning gender segregation in the UK – for example at universities and political meetings – audiences have not been told that this is indicative of a negative cultural and social shift in British society as a whole.

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