As a Jewish person who has written about anti-Semitism, I have no problem using the term when it is merited. But there are certainly times when an offended Jewish person wrongly labels something as anti-Semitic, which only leads to more negative stereotyping of Jews.
Earlier this week, about 100 high school students, together with their chaperones, were kicked off an Air Tran flight traveling from New York to Atlanta over their alleged bad behavior, which included refusal to take their seats and refusal to turn off their mobile devices.
So, was this a simple case of a bunch of kids who were excited to be taking a trip together to the Six Flags theme park, plus going on a rafting excursion, and they got caught up in the moment, not realizing that when the flight attendants and pilot give orders on a plane, those orders must be obeyed?
Not quite. The students were all seniors from the Yeshiva of Flatbush, located in Brooklyn, and one of them,
“They treated us like we were terrorists,” he said. “I've never seen anything like it. I'm not someone to make these kinds of statements. I think if it was a group of non-religious kids, the air stewardess wouldn't have dared to kick them off.”
According to Rabbi Seth Linfield, executive director at Yeshiva of Flatbush, claimed that, according to the adults who accompanied the students, “Preliminarily, it does not appear that the action taken by the flight crew was justified.”
Of course, I wasn’t on the flight to observe things myself, but I have flown millions of miles and certainly understand proper decorum, in light of which the comments of another passenger on the flight ring true to me. He reported that the airline was completely justified in its actions, that a number of the kids kept switching seats and others wouldn’t turn off their cell phones, all of which is completely unacceptable when flying, especially when a large group is involved. Rules really are rules when you’re about to take off or already in the air.
What we do know is that the pilot himself came on to address the allegedly unruly students, which is highly unusual, as also noted by the airline. How often have you heard an airline pilot calling the passengers to order before taking off, telling them they must be seated and must turn off their cell phones? Not often.
Brad Hawkins, a spokesman for the airline, “said the AirTran cabin crew made ‘repeated requests’ for an unknown number of the students to behave. ‘The point at which the captain comes on the PA system and says, “You all need to sit down,” is unusual.’”
And what do you do if there are 100 young people traveling together and a number of them won’t comply with the rules while on the ground? How will you get them to comply in the air? And what does it tell us when the adult chaperones claimed that the kids weren’t behaving “that badly”? How bad does the behavior have to be before the airline is justified in taking action?
It’s also important to remember that these were not ultra-Orthodox kids, the boys wearing black coats, already with beards and side curls, and the girls in dresses down to the floor. Perhaps that would have presented more of an occasion for the alleged “anti-Semitism.” Instead, they were modern Orthodox, as indicated by the some of their pictures. So, they would have been identifiably Jewish, but not in a way that would have caused them to stand out that much.
In any case, can we take the claim seriously that they were treated like terrorists? That they were kicked off the plane because they were Jewish? That the flight attendants and pilot and airline only did this to them because they had a problem with religious Jews?
Now, this is certainly possible, and if proves to be true, the airline should be rebuked in the strongest of terms. But from this vantage point, I have my serious doubts, and it’s when we play the “anti-Semitism” card too much that we actually play into the hands of our critics.
Is this one of those cases?
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, including Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message, and he hosts the nationally syndicated, daily talk radio show, the Line of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.