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Sunday, June 26, 2011

About Delta, Saudi Arabia and Jews

Last week a number of sites published the news that Delta Airlines, by partnering with Saudi Arabian Airlines, would actively be stopping Jews from traveling to Saudi Arabia.

The whole thing sounded a little strange to me. While I have heard anecdotal evidence (see comments) that Saudi Arabia does not allow Jews into the country, and clear evidence that it does not allow anyone with an Israeli stamp on their passport or non-Muslim religious items, adding Saudi Arabian Airlines to Delta's "Skyteam Alliance" did not sound to me like Delta would be actively being discriminatory. Delta was still not flying to any Saudi cities; it was just making it easier to book flights through Delta to Saudi Arabian Airlines.

So I waited a bit before discussing the story, and now things are a little clearer with Delta's denial and information from the ADL in Ha'aretz:
The question of Saudi Arabia’s policy on Jewish tourists came under the spotlight last week, after a rumor spread via the internet that Delta Air Lines was enforcing a Saudi “ban” on Jewish visitors. In response to heated public demands, both Delta and the Saudi Embassy in Washington attempted to quash the rumors.

According to a JTA report Sunday, the Saudi Embassy said in a two-sentence statement that “The Government of Saudi Arabia does not deny visas to U.S. citizens based on their religion."

However the U.S. State Department travel advisory for Saudi Arabia said there have been reports by U.S. citizens that “they were refused a Saudi visa because their passports reflected travel to Israel or indicated that they were born in Israel,” said the JTA report.
In addition, the Anti-Defamation League said Saudi policies made it hard for religiously-observant Jews to enter the country.

Saudi Arabia “bars anyone from bringing into Saudi Arabia religious ritual objects, including religious texts, from any faith other than Islam, effectively banning religiously observant Jews from entering the country,” said the ADL, according to the JTA report.

The ADL also said it expected “Delta, and any other American airline which flies to Riyadh or partners with an airline that flies there, to ensure that its passengers - whatever their faith - not be discriminated against, and that no American airline in any way enable, or facilitate this discrimination, whatever the regulations of Saudi Arabia.”

According to JTA, rumors that Delta Air Lines would discriminate against Jews wishing to travel to Saudi Arabia “emerged last week after World Net Daily, a conservative website, reported that Delta Airlines was enforcing a Saudi ban on Jewish visitors by partnering with Saudi Arabian Airlines.”

But the Saudi Embassy in Washington said rumors regarding passenger flight restrictions on Saudi Arabian Airlines were “completely false.”

In addition, while SAA is joining the SkyTeam Alliance, which Delta founded, this does not mean Delta will operate their flights.

“Delta does not operate service to Saudi Arabia and does not codeshare with any airline on flights to that country,” said Delta in a news release on Friday.

“Delta’s only agreement with Saudi Arabian Airlines is a standard industry interline agreement, which allows passengers to book tickets on multiple carriers, similar to the standard interline agreements American Airlines, US Airways and Alaska Airlines have with Saudi Arabian Airlines,” it said. “All of the three global airline alliances – Star, which includes United Airlines; oneworld, which includes American Airlines, and SkyTeam, which includes Delta – have members that fly to Saudi Arabia and are subject to that country’s rules governing entry.”

The news release specifically added that Delta does not discriminate, nor condone the discrimination of any customers based on age, race, nationality, religion, or gender.
In 2004, the Saudi tourism website did say explicitly that Jews would not get visas. Embarrassed Saudis claimed it was a mistake and that they had no policy to discriminate against Jews.

However, In 1956, it was discovered that the US agreed upon Saudi request not to station any Jewish troops in an airfield in Dharan,  Saudi Arabia.

And in 1975, when the state of California was planning to send some 200 workers to Saudi Arabia, the plan was scuttled when the Saudis said that no "Zionists" would be allowed, and it was pretty clear after a week of talks that they meant Jews.

It seems to me that the anger at Delta Airlines is misplaced. The problem is with Saudi Arabia itself, as well as those that directly enable its policy of discrimination.

These include Lufthansa, Air France, British Airways, KLM, Air Canada and SwissAir, all of which directly fly into Saudi Arabia.

Where are the protests in Germany, Great Britain, Canada, Switzerland, Holland and France about having their airlines enforce Saudi Arabia's discrimination against Jews and Christians (and I imagine Hindus and Buddhists as well)?

Once upon a time, I worked for a telecommunications company that presented a lecture about how their ethical standards would not allow them to partner with any company that has a discriminatory policy. I then asked them, if Saudi Arabia would offer a $50 billion contract for telecom services but stipulated that no Jews were allowed to work on the project, would they would reject it?

Their hemming and hawing in response was priceless.

In the end, everyone likes to pretend that they have ethical standards,but it looks like most can be convinced to let things slide for the right price. My guess is that much of the small success Israel has had in making its case in the world has nothing to do with people being revolted by the anti-semitism of the Israel haters, but because Israel's economy and innovation are forces to be reckoned with. In the end, that might provide more security than anything else.