Collective Punishment for Looking Jewish


We struggle to contain our indignation. The story is upsetting. The video is chilling. The apology was milquetoast. Lufthansa Airlines blew it. But very few seem to care.

The saga began on May 4, when a large group of Jewish passengers were denied boarding on a connecting Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to Budapest, Hungary, after several passengers reportedly failed to comply with the airline’s mask regulations on the first leg of the trip from New York.

It is not clear how many passengers on the JFK-Frankfurt leg ignored the mask rule. But it is clear that all identifiable Jewish passengers on the connecting flight were punished for the offense. According to the Lufthansa supervisor whose remarks were recorded by passengers, the airline’s intent for group punishment was explicit: “Everyone has to pay for a couple,” said the supervisor. “It’s Jews coming from JFK. Jewish people were the mess, who made the problems.”

And so, a phalanx of German police brandishing machine guns barred identifiable Jews from boarding the connecting flight, and Lufthansa banned those passengers from purchasing another ticket to Budapest or anywhere else for 24 hours.

According to reports, there were an estimated 135-170 Jews on the Lufthansa flight, 80% of whom were dressed in Chasidic garb. During the flight, a pilot announced that flight attendants were frustrated with people blocking the galleys while praying, and with having to repeat themselves to remind people to wear masks. Some of the Jewish passengers on the Lufthansa flight were part of a group on an annual pilgrimage to visit the grave of Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner, a wonder-working rabbi who died in 1925 and is buried in northeast Hungary.

But dozens of the Jewish passengers on the flight were not part of the group or even going on the pilgrimage. Nonetheless, anyone who “looked Jewish” was denied boarding in Frankfurt. As a result, the connecting flight to Budapest, which reportedly had close to 200 seats, took off with only 20 passengers on board.

After reports and videos of the incident went viral, Lufthansa issued a lame “apology,” which failed to acknowledge the enormity of the offense, failed to articulate meaningful remorse and sought to cast blame for the mask violations on a “large group” of Jewish passengers on the first leg of the trip. When that “apology” was roundly criticized, Lufthansa’s CEO, Carsten Spohr, called Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal in Berlin, and told him that the antisemitic incident shouldn’t have happened and that employees involved had been suspended. No details were provided.

What is almost as upsetting as the deeply troubling Lufthansa offense is the lack of more vocal and active expressions of indignation and outrage about the incident from the organized Jewish community and others. We complain regularly about antisemitism and its pernicious infection of our society. We complain regularly about the hateful victimization of Jews and the targeting of the Jewish community. The Lufthansa story checks all those boxes. And yet, the broader Jewish communal reaction to the Lufthansa outrage has been remarkably restrained.

Why is it that when the targets of blatant antisemitism are Chasidic Jews we don’t seem quite so offended?


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