Bill de Blasio, the New York City public advocate, a role that functions as an ombudsman, has threatened to force Saudi Arabian Airlines out of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport after it was revealed last week that the Middle Eastern carrier denies tickets to passengers with Israeli passports.
Saudi Arabian Airlines’ dropdown box for a passenger’s nationality on its booking engine includes options like Dutch Antillean, Reunionese and Tuvaluan, but not the more common Israeli nationality. A phone sting conducted by Public Advocate and mayoral hopeful de Blasio confirmed that Israeli passport-holders could not even fly out of JFK or Washington Dulles, not even on transit flights where Saudi visas are not required.
“No city in the world has closer ties to Israel than [New York], and yet, Israeli citizens are being discriminated against right here on our doorstep," de Blasio said in a statement. "It is not only illegal, it’s an affront to who we are. We won’t stop with just exposing these practices. We’ll pursue this with authorities in Albany and in Washington until Israeli nationals’ rights are respected.”
In a letter to Khalid Abdullah Almolhem, the director general of Saudi Arabian Airlines, de Blasio said that because the carrier flies out of the State of New York, it is subject to all relevant local, state and federal laws, which claim an “air carrier or foreign air carrier may not subject a person in air transportation to discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex or ancestry.”
De Blasio issued similar letters last week to the CEOs of Gulf Air and Kuwait Airways, which he said also banned Israeli passport-holders. His main target so far, however, has been Almolhem, who defended his airline on Friday with a statement delivered to Saudi newspaper Al-Watan. His statement explained why the company does not allow Israeli passengers on its aircraft.
“If there is an absence of political relations between [Saudi Arabia] and any other country, we will not allow that country’s citizens into the Kingdom,” Almolhem said. “[Diplomatic relations] also apply to transit passengers … in case the plane is delayed, the passenger will have to enter the country; and to that point, it would be very difficult to let him into the country if there are no diplomatic relations.”
De Blasio said this response was unacceptable. He renewed his vow to fight the alleged discrimination on Monday, telling Fox News he would work to “see Saudi Airlines’ lease at JFK pulled until it respects the rights of Israeli nationals.”
This is not the first time Saudi Arabian Airlines’ policy toward passengers from Israel, the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East, has caused anger in the American Jewish community. In 2011, protesters fought against an alliance between the airline and Delta Air Lines due to its rumored policy not to allow Israeli passport-holders on board. De Blasio said that while the policy was only a rumor in 2011, it is now official.