August 10, 2018 | Policy Brief

Kuwait Airways’ Anti-Israel Discrimination

Kuwait’s national carrier has agreed, without admitting liability, to pay damages and costs to an Israeli passenger denied service from London to Bangkok, a UK advocacy group reported Tuesday. Kuwait Airways refuses to fly Israeli passport holders even on routes that do not enter the Gulf country.

In November 2017, Mandy Blumenthal, a British-Israeli citizen, approached the Kuwait Airways counter at Heathrow Airport and attempted to purchase a roundtrip ticket to Thailand. In the interaction, which was captured on video with the apparent attempt to catch the airline in the act of discrimination, the airline employee explained that it was company policy not to fly Israeli citizens.

This is not the first time Kuwait Airways’ prejudicial policy has made headlines. Also in November 2017, a German court ruled that the airline did not have to transport an Israeli citizen flying from Frankfurt to Bangkok. The court argued that Germany could not expect Kuwait Airways to violate a law put in place by the Kuwaiti government, which owns the airline. German law protects against discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and religion, but not national origin.

In some instances, Kuwait has elected to cancel routes instead of changing its policies. That was the case in 2016, when Kuwait Airways refused to allow an Israeli to purchase a ticket from Switzerland to Germany. The Israeli sued, leading the company to terminate its intra-European flights rather than dispute the charges. Similarly, in 2013, Kuwait Airways refused to fly an Israeli passenger from New York to London. The passenger filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation, which ordered the airline to “cease and desist from refusing to transport Israeli citizens between the U.S. and any third country where they are allowed to disembark.” Kuwait Airways again decided to eliminate its New York to London route rather than amend its policies.

Kuwait Airways’ refusal of service marks one of the last vestiges of the Arab League Boycott of Israel. Since 1945, three years before Israel’s establishment, the Arab League Boycott has sought to wage economic warfare against the Jewish state by requiring member countries to force its businesses to cut ties with Israel and even pressure other companies that do business with Israel to do the same. At one point, Arab countries even asked companies to submit information verifying that no employees or board members are Jewish.

In recent years, as ties have quietly warmed between the Arabs and Israel, the boycott has waned. However, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has taken its place. A grassroots campaign with the similar aim of waging a discriminatory economic war on Israel, BDS seeks to pressure companies to terminate partnerships with Israel. Kuwait Airways’ actions only encourage this campaign.

There are several steps to end such practices. First, the United States and other Western nations should prohibit Kuwait Airways and other discriminating carriers from operating on their soil.

Second, major travel companies such as partner airlines, hotels, and rental car corporations should end their partnerships. Online travel sites such as Orbitz, Expedia, and Priceline should stop listing Kuwait Airways. The message is simple: bigotry will not fly.


Arab Politics Gulf States Israel