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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

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Delta and Saudi Arabia: Flying the Friendly, Anti-Semitic Skies

Posted: 06/24/11 06:45 PM ET

It's no secret that Saudi Arabia bars passengers with Jewish sounding last names and any passport with an Israeli stamp from its flights. It's therefore inexplicable why Delta Airlines would partner with Saudi Arabian Airlines knowing that the partnership would, at best, passively endorse Saudi Arabia's anti-Semitic policies. Even more bizarre is the defense Delta offered of the practice once the story of the partnership broke. International airlines, it said, "are required to comply with all applicable laws governing entry into every country... Visa requirements or other possible government travel restrictions to enter any country are dictated by that nation's government, not the national airlines or foreign carriers. These requirements apply to anyone entering the country either by land, air or sea."

Aha. So Delta isn't barring Jews from entering Saudi Arabia. They can't be faulted for Saudi policies.

But would Delta have said the same thing had they partnered with, say, South African Airways at the height of apartheid had there been a requirement for black passengers to sit near the toilet in the back of the aircraft? Would they have said, "Sorry, this isn't our regulation, it's our partner's." I suspect not. They would probably have never risked a partnership that would have passively endorsed racist policies and subjected the airline to international condemnation.

Which leads to the larger question of why Saudi Arabia is always treated differently. Where is the outrage over the only country in the entire world that doesn't allow women to drive a car or that publicly flogs women for being alone in a room with a man they are not married to, as recently happened to a woman in her seventies who committed the sin of allowing a delivery man into her house? This is pure barbarity, yet the West continues to overlook it due to Saudi wealth and our own gluttony for oil. In essence, we have allowed our morals to drown in an ocean of crude.

Islamic scholars have confirmed that there is nothing in the Koran that bars a woman from driving and at least two of the prophet's wives are known to have ridden camels, the four-wheel drive of its time. Yet, when Manal al-Sharif posted a video of herself driving this past May she was locked up for nine days.

This extreme gender apartheid led in turn to the recent, widely-covered protests on the part of several Saudi women to publicly drive and challenge the authoritarian Wahhabi regime, pleading with Hillary Clinton to speak out on their behalf. But the most our Secretary of State could muster was a bland and non-committal statement: "What these women are doing is brave, and what they are seeking is right." You don't say. But hey, at least the statement is a start.

But while the world applauds the rise of the Arab Spring and the sprouting of the innate desire on the part of Arab brothers and sisters to live and breathe free, there is at best token American and European pressure on the Saudis to come in from the dark ages and treat women like fully-fledged human beings. The absence of leading feminist voices regularly and unrelentingly condemning the Saudis for their brutal treatment of women is particularly dispiriting.

But hey, even feminists need to fill up and so long as the Saudis prove useful in pumping up our gas-guzzling SUV's, it seems that the American people will continue to remain silent and more American businesses will continue to sell their souls.

 
 
 

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