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Lufthansa to address anti-Semitism

BERLIN — The Lufthansa airline is creating a senior management role dedicated to preventing discrimination and anti-Semitism two months after it barred a large group of Orthodox Jewish passengers from boarding a flight.

Lufthansa airplanes at the Franz-Josef-Strauss airport in Munich, July 27, 2022. (Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images)

An independent investigation commissioned by the airline said there was no evidence of institutional anti-Semitism behind the incident, which the company’s CEO deemed “categorically inappropriate.”

In a letter to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Lufthansa Airlines CEO Jens Ritter said the airline had established an internal task force to investigate the May 4 incident in which more than 100 chasidic passengers were kicked off a connecting flight from New York to Budapest because some of them had not worn masks and committed other flight violations, such as gathering in the aisles.

The incident outraged Jews in the US and Europe, some of whom alleged that the crew had been discriminating against all visible Jewish passengers, even those who had complied with the rules.

The Conference of Presidents was one of several Jewish groups to criticize Lufthansa in the aftermath and demand a full accounting of the incident.

Most of the passengers were traveling to a pilgrimage and did not know each other; a Lufthansa supervisor was caught on video remarking, “Everyone has to pay for a couple,” and, “It’s Jews coming from JFK.

Jewish people who were the mess, who made the problems.”

The incident attracted the attention of Deborah Lipstadt, the US State Dept.’s special envoy for anti-Semitism, who said last week that she would be meeting with the head of the worldwide Lufthansa Group, as well as the head of the airline in North America, to discuss allegations of anti-Semitism against the airline.

“It’s hard to believe but often it’s ignorance rooted in certain perceptions, and ignorance that stems from an anti-Semitic nature,” she said during a webinar hosted by the ADL, speculating as to the Lufthansa crew’s motives for kicking off all chasidic passengers.

In the Lufthansa letter, dated July 22, the airline’s task force acknowledged that some of its crew members had been “insensitive and unprofessional” in dealing with the passengers. But the report concluded, “The thorough investigation did not reveal any sentiments of anti-Semitism, prejudice or premeditated behavior by Lufthansa representatives.”

Ritter also blamed “an unfortunate chain of inaccurate communication, misinterpretation and unintended misjudgments” on the final result, while pointing out that the “several Orthodox Jewish passengers” who were not complying with regulations had “created a tenuous situation” and prompted “several announcements” from the captain.

The CEO promised that the German airline would take further action, including establishing a senior management role “for the prevention of discrimination and anti-Semitism,” creating new staff training around issues of anti-Semitism and adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.

It ran the report’s methodology by Felix Klein, Germany’s top commissioner on anti-Semitism. The connecting flight in May was in Frankfurt, Germany.

“Lufthansa deeply regrets the denied boarding and the impact it had on our passengers,” Ritter said.

The airline previously apologized to the passengers for failing to limit its denial of boarding to “non-compliant guests.”

On July 27, Lufthansa cancelled nearly all flights leaving Frankfurt and Munich, stranding 130,000 people, after thousands of employees staged a walkout for better wages.

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