Monday, September 5, 2011
Really?? Is this back-door Shariah? Complaint cites New York Attorney says problems not addressed by airline assurance it won't discriminate
The New York Port Authority has been asked to investigate what state and federal anti-discrimination laws might be violated by imposing anti-Jewish Islamic restrictions on passengers boarding flights to Jeddah from the publicly owned JFK Airport.
The request has been brought by a Washington attorney who first raised questions about Delta Air Lines and its new agreement to include Saudi Arabian Airlines in its Sky Team Alliance of airlines.
Saudi Arabia bars Jews and passengers with Israeli passports and Israeli stamps in their passports from boarding flights to the desert kingdom.
"In this respect, the impact of any discriminatory conduct would take place at JFK airport, and not just inside of Saudi Arabia," wrote attorney Jeffrey A. Lovitky in a recent letter to the agency.
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WND has reported on the controversy since the issue first was raised by Lovitky.
Delta, which under the new agreement would facilitate flights from JFK and Dulles airports to Jeddah, has been accused of enabling or at least allowing illegal discrimination on U.S. soil
Also banned would be items such as cross necklaces and Bibles.
Lovitky told WND he started raising the issue after finding out about the discriminatory practices at U.S. airports while making travel arrangements.
Delta recently tried to take itself out of the controversy by meeting with the Simon Wiesenthal Center and issuing a statement that it would not "request that customers declare their religious affiliation" and "would also not seek such information on behalf of any Sky Team partner or any airline."
Lovitky told WND that doesn't solve the violations.
"The letter [to the] Simon Wiesenthal Center was not satisfactory," he said. "I appreciate Delta's assurances that it will not discriminate against Jewish customers. However, the more important issue is whether Delta should even be in an alliance with an airline owned by the government of Saudi Arabia, which practices the most vicious forms of discrimination against women," he said.
"Additionally, I do not believe that it is appropriate for Delta to be in an alliance with Saudi Airlines, given the pervasive discrimination against Christians and Jews in Saudi Arabia," he told WND. "I believe that Delta should simply walk out of the SkyTeam Alliance the minute the Saudi Arabian Airlines walks in."
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He said the Saudi intolerance of Jews may be easier to understand if Americans thought of the restrictions as targeting another faith.
"I would ask your readers to put themselves in the position of a Christian passenger on a flight from Washington Dulles to Saudi Arabia to attend a business meeting. Let's assume that this passenger regularly carries with them a Bible when they travel overseas, as many passengers do. That passenger is essentially forced to abandon that Bible at Dulles Airport (or not take it to the airport in the first place), because it may be treated as a contraband item upon arrival in Riyadh or Jeddah. In this manner, the force and effect of these Saudi restrictions are felt by the passenger even while he or she is still on U.S. soil," he told WND.
WND calls to The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey asking about plans to respond to the letter did not generate a return telephone call.
In the letter, Lovitky pointed out that "gender and religious discrimination are prohibited by both state and federal laws, as well as by the rules of the Port Authority itself." He cited the airport's Rule 1(B)(1), which states, "Use of any area or portion of an Air Terminal in a manner contrary to law … may result in a withdrawal of permission to enter or remain in such air terminal by the Port Authority."
He noted that "Saudia flights directly benefit from tax exempt public financing at JFK airport through the servicing of its aircraft, gate areas, baggage operations, etc."
"The issue which must be addressed is whether tax exempt public financing is being used to service flights from which Jews are banned if they admit their religious affiliation, and from which non-Islamic religious materials are effectively excluded," he said.
"If the allegations of discrimination are correct, the Port Authority would be using public financing to facilitate a sectarian activity at the airport which directly supports one set of religious beliefs and purposefully excludes all others, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution," he said in the letter to the authority.
He said the government agency has a responsibility to investigate.
"Accordingly, I am requesting that the Port Authority obtain such assurances as are required from the Saudi government and Saudia to ensure that Saudia flights are being operated on a non-discriminatory basis," he wrote.
He cited as evidence U.S. Department of State warnings about Saudi Arabia that "the government prohibits the public practice of religions other than Islam. … Saudi customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning importation into Saudi Arabia of [a]ny item that is held to be contrary to the tenets of Islam."
Further, he wrote, the lease agreement allowing Delta to operate at JFK "requires that Delta comply with certain federal and state statutes and regulations, including laws prohibiting discrimination."
Lovitky told WND he also has written the Saudi Arabian embassy about his concerns, as well as the Saudi airline directly. He did not get a response from either location, and the embassy was closed this week and no one was available to comment to WND.
He copied Roy W. Kienitz, U.S. undersecretary of transportation for policy, on the letter, in which he seeks assurances that Saudi Arabia will not treat women differently from men in its operations at JFK and Dulles, and will grant visas without discrimination based on religion.
The letter effectively put the federal government on notice that there is a problem with discrimination by the Saudi government operations inside the U.S.
Kienitz also did not respond to a WND request for comment.
Lovitky also told WND that Delta's promise simply isn't enough.
"I would call on Delta to terminate its affiliation with the SkyTeam alliance upon admission of Saudi Arabian Airlines in 2012, unless the kingdom provides written assurances that it will not discriminate against women, Christians and Jews in connection with their official polices," he wrote to Andrea Newman, a Delta vice president.
The American Center for Law and Justice has called on the Federal Aviation Administration and Congress to investigate the relationship between Delta Air Lines and Saudi Arabian Airlines over the government-owned Saudi operation's discrimination against Jews.
And ACLJ chief Jay Sekulow noted that U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., sent a letter to the FAA requesting a probe into the matter "to determine whether Delta Air Lines violated U.S. law or regulation and to ensure no U.S. citizen is denied their right to fly solely on the basis of their religion."
Delta in January 2011 boasted of working with Saudi Air in a "global airline alliance providing customers from member airlines access to an extensive global network with more destinations, more frequencies and more connectivity."
The ACLJ asked, "So why is this a problem? Simply put, Saudi Arabia (in addition to being a hub of terrorist financing and so radical that its religious police force girls to burn to death rather than escape a school fire without their abayas) is known to blatantly discriminate in its visa policies."
It continued, "Delta can't control Saudi Arabia's immigration policy, but it can control whether it does business with Saudi Arabia."
Lovitky said when he has gotten a response from anyone, it's been a brushoff.
Larry Klayman, the Washington attorney who founded Judicial Watch and now is of Freedom Watch USA, also is encouraging a boycott.
"It's incumbent on all Christians, Jews and people who find discrimination abhorrent to make it clear to Delta that they will not fly on the airline," he told WND, "until Delta withdraws from its alliance with Saudi Arabia.
"You have to wonder where the potential allies on the left such as Jesse Jackson, who have claimed to have experienced similar discrimination … why are they not speaking out. Where is the president, who endorsed the Ground Zero mosque, yet will not stand up for Christians and Jews."
"This is outrageous, repugnant and illegal," he said.
He said Delta has joined President Obama in "kowtowing" to "nefarious Muslims."
His reference was to the famous image of Barack Obama greeting the Saudi king with a bow.
The dispute even pulled the Saudi government into the fray.
"Rumors being circulated via the Internet regarding passenger flight restrictions on Saudi Arabian Airlines are completely false. The government of Saudi Arabia does not deny visas to U.S. citizens based on their religion," the government said on PRNewswire.
"Liars," said Pamela Geller on her Atlas Shrugs blog. She noted that Delta's own website states: "The government of Saudi Arabia refuses admission and transit to nationals of Israel."
Delta's website also states, "Visitors holding passports containing any Israeli visa or stamp could be refused entry."
At Jihad Watch, the dispute was spelled out in a statement attributed to Detroit rabbi Jason Miller: "The issue here is one of principle. Delta isn't being forced to include Saudi Arabian Airlines into its SkyTeam Alliance. In fact, Delta could stand on principle and refuse to include Saudi Arabian."
WND reported earlier the issue first was presented to Congress, the public and others by talk radio host and former U.S. Rep. Fred Grandy, who engaged in his own battle against discrimination when his former radio station demanded he tone down criticism of Islam on his program. He then left the station.
Grandy and "Mrs. Fred," – Catherine – were interviewed by Talk 1200 show host Jeff Katz about the controversy, which was described as "outrageous."
Their conversation has been posted online as well as embedded:
"Creeping Shariah? Now [it is] jetspeed Shariah. Hat's off to Delta. It looks like Delta will be the first Shariah-compliant airline in the United States," Catherine Grandy said.
Katz noted, "As a Jewish man, I might not be able to fly on Delta Air Lines in the future."
Fred Grandy told Katz that he spent time in Washington briefing members of Congress and other policy makers "on this kind of threat."
"This creeping Shariah, economic jihad, gets you everywhere you turn," Catherine Grandy said. "This is just not right. I'm sure this will be tested."
Fred Grandy said there were several questions raised by the controversy, including would passengers continue to fly on Delta, what should the government do and the advance of Shariah in the United States.
"If this isn't one landing strip at a time, I don't know what is," he said.
Lovitky told WND that whatever discrimination the Saudis choose to enforce in their nation, it becomes a problem when Delta applies it to American citizens on American soil.
"Delta Air Lines acted in a purely voluntary manner in agreeing to this alliance with Saudi Airlines," he wrote in a letter asking the Delta board to act on the matter. "Accordingly, Delta has made itself responsible for ensuring that passengers on any flight jointly operated with Saudi Airlines will not be subject to discrimination on the basis of their gender, religion, or any other inappropriate grounds."