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Lufthansa kicks all visibly Jewish passengers off flight after two refused to wear masks, later apologizes

The German airline presented a collective punishment to all ultra-Orthodox Jews on a flight from the U.S. to Hungary

Illustrative - Lufthansa plane (Photo: DPA/Picture Alliance/Reuters)

The German airline Lufthansa issued an apology on Tuesday following an unusual incident in which the airline refused to allow any passengers who were visibly Jewish onto a flight.

The incident occurred last week when a number of Jewish passengers were denied boarding a connecting flight at the Frankfurt airport while traveling from New York to Budapest for a religious pilgrimage. Reports emerged that two ultra-Orthodox Jewish passengers refused to wear masks as per the carrier’s rules. The airline then prevented all visibly Jewish passengers from boarding the flight. 

Videos that emerged Monday on social media showed a Lufthansa staff member telling a passenger: “I know, it was one... everyone has to pay for a couple.” 

She noted that “it’s Jews coming from JFK. Jewish people who were the mess, who made the problems.”

In a statement Tuesday, Lufthansa said that only the “non-compliant guests” should have been barred from boarding and not the entire group that consisted of other ultra-Orthodox Jews who were American citizens. 

“Lufthansa regrets the circumstances surrounding the decision to exclude passengers from flight LH 1334 on May 4. Lufthansa sincerely apologizes,” the statement read. “What transpired is not consistent with Lufthansa’s policies or values. We have no tolerance for racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination of any type.”

Lufthansa requires wearing masks on its flights, and staff handed out masks to passengers who did not have any at the time of boarding.

The Jewish publication Hamodia quoted one passenger named Nachman Kahana, who said that only “one or two people” on the flight did not wear masks, and there was an issue over it with “one of the stewards.”

“They explicitly said that nobody who is dressed alike on that plane is going to board the Lufthansa plane to Budapest,” he said. “They banned us because we are Jews. That’s the only reason.”

Kahana said Lufthansa agents then began to board only non-Jewish passengers. When all visibly Jewish passengers wearing the Hasidic apparel were left at the gate, an official announced the flight was canceled for all remaining passengers “due to operational reasons coming from the flight from New York.”

The flight then took off with only 20 people on board. According to YNET, the Jewish passengers who stayed at the airport were told they were banned from flying Lufthansa for 24 hours, and it would not be possible to rebook their tickets. Therefore, many of them had to spend hundreds of extra dollars, while some decided to give up on the trip.

The passengers claimed they did not commit any wrong and accused the German airline of “anti-semitic discrimination.”

Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum Director Dani Dayan was outraged by the incident and not satisfied by the airline’s apology. 

“You regret the ‘circumstances surrounding the decision?’ Don’t you regret the decision itself? And your staff’s behavior? And their attitude and statements?” Dayan wrote on Twitter. “This is not an apology. We expect you to do better. Not too late.”

The Anti-Defamation League has also blasted Lufthansa’s statement and called on the airline to investigate the incident further and compensate the travelers who were blocked from flying.

“This non-apology fails to admit fault or identify the banned passengers as Jews. It also refers to them as a group, even though many were strangers. They had one commonality – being visibly Jewish,” the ADL said in a statement.


Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.

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