Emirates Suspends Pilot For Refusing To Fly To Israel (Retracted)

Filed Under: Emirates

Update: Al Jazeera (which was used as the source for this post) has since retracted its story, as Emirates claims it “has never employed any pilot by this name and all reports circulating on social media around this are false.” You can find the original post below.

This is sure to be controversial…

Emirates pilot refuses to fly to Israel, gets suspended

Israel and the United Arab Emirates recently established diplomatic relations, and we’re seeing a new air services agreement between the two countries. While Dubai-based Emirates Airline doesn’t yet fly between Dubai and Tel Aviv, it’s expected that the airline will launch this service in the coming weeks.

Al Jazeera reports that a Tunisian Emirates pilot took to Facebook to state that he has been suspended from Emirates Airline for refusing to fly to Israel. The future of his job at the airline is dependent upon an appearance before a disciplinary committee. Momen Sahib al-Taba wrote the following on his Facebook account, which he has since closed due to pressure from the airline:

“My activity as a pilot in Emirates Airlines was suspended due to my refusal to participate in a flight to Tel Aviv. God is only who takes care of me, I do not regret it.”

The Deputy Leader of Tunisia’s Ennahdha Party, Hayet Omri, wrote on Facebook that al-Taba’s position is “a source of honor and pride,” and stated the following:

“Many will be rejoiced at the courageous move of the Tunisian captain. It is true that this action is living proof of the status of the Palestine issue in the minds of Tunisians, but in practice it will fall under consequences that may lead to losing his job.”

It’s not entirely clear whether al-Taba was asked to fly to Israel, given that Emirates isn’t offering such a service yet, or if he was just proactive about refusing to fly to Israel when service starts.

Emirates is expected to launch flights to Israel soon

Should a pilot be able to refuse certain flights?

I understand how contentious and sensitive the Israel vs. Palestine topic is. I don’t want to get into that at all, but rather want to talk about this issue more generally. Should a pilot be able to refuse certain flights based on their personal, political, and/or religious beliefs?

I’m inclined to think that the answer is “no,” and that this is a very slippery slope. Pilots are there to safely operate airplanes, and shouldn’t take a moral stand beyond that:

  • Should a Christian pilot be able to refuse flights to Muslim countries because they disagree with pilots?
  • Should a pilot be able to refuse a flight because they personally object with some of the cargo being carried?

I think the answer would definitely be “no.”

It reminds me of a lawsuit we saw several years back where a Muslim flight attendant was suspended from a US airline because she refused to serve alcohol, since it violates her religious beliefs. While I can appreciate if someone has those beliefs, that doesn’t seem like a reasonable accommodation for an airline to have to make, given that it’s a basic function of the job.

Similarly, operating flights to any destination you’re rostered to also seems like a reasonable expectation for an airline.

An Emirates pilot is refusing to fly to Israel

Bottom line

Emirates has suspended a Tunisian pilot who is publicly refusing to operate flights to Israel, following the normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE. While I recognize how contentious the topic is, it doesn’t seem reasonable to me that a pilot should be able to refuse a destination due to their personal beliefs.

Then again, given what we know, I’m also not sure I’d like this guy to be forced to operate a flight to Israel. I’ll be curious to see what comes of this…

What do you think — should this pilot be fired if he refuses to operate Israel flights?

Comments
  1. I would gladly take his place. He should feel lucky that he still has a job flying while many from the industry are left to fedn for themselves.

  2. Emirates is taking the right steps.

    If one is employed, they agree to certain conditions, to which Emirates now serves Tel Aviv.

    This pilot is at free will to find a new job to which the airline does not fly to Israel. The pilot is not compelled to stay at Emirates.

  3. Flights to Iran are very different. Iran is not a democracy and does not have to withhold western standards even with regard to visitors and human rights. Iran constantly punishes visitors with harsh imprisonment including but not limited to homosexuality as a crime.

    Israel is a western nation, based on democratic values, which have very similar values as the United States. They are a capitalist society with free speech. Israel values all types of people and is very open to immigrants, the LGBTQ and diversity.

  4. @ Ray — Well, in the case of Air France, crews have to lay over in Iran, and women face discrimination there (and even more so when the rule was introduced than now). Emirates’ flights to Tel Aviv will presumably be same day turns. The pilots won’t have to enter Israel, and it doesn’t seem like they’ll face any discrimination on account of having to work flights there. So I view that as being quite different.

  5. It is not easy for someone living comfortably in the US to understand how sensitive this issue is to a lot of people in the Arab World ( not just Muslims ). Try a Democrat being asked to vote for a Republican and multiply it by 1000 and you might understand the strong feelings.
    There are many other EK pilots who would happily fly to Israel so this decision reeks of politics rather than professionalism.

    I also wonder how you would have felt had your mother or father been Palestinian.

  6. Do you also believe that gay pilots should be sacked if they refuse to countries where gays receive the death penalty? Is that also a slippery slope?

  7. If you don’t want to risk ever dispensing birth control, don’t become a pharmacist. Same principle.

    @Sharon: Really? What about China, Russia, or even Maldives? Most countries are not perfectly “free” by every possible measure of liberty.

  8. There might be more to this story.Tunisia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations so not sure if he can operate flight there even if he wants to. Also, he might eventually face problems entering his own country if for any reason he gets israeli stamp in his passports (not long ago holders of any passports with stamp of Israel couldn’t enter UAE either).In best case he needs visa, and, with huge cost cutting measures in place for everything now, not sure if Emirates would spend money and time on his visa if they have other pilots who can operate there without problems.Something doesn’t add up here.

  9. @ Grey — Are we talking places like Qatar and the UAE, or what countries are you referring to? To answer your question, if the pilots are just doing a direct turn then yes, I absolutely think they should have to. If they had a layover in a country and them being gay poses a risk, then no, I don’t necessarily think so.

    In the case of this pilot, his refusal wasn’t over feared safety, though, but rather it was over his moral objection. Those are two different things.

  10. @Ray

    That’s completly different. Air France let women staff opt-out of Iran flights because they are forced to cover their head while in Iran. They can not opt out flights to Saudi Arabia, Israel or Tunisia because of the local religions, or to Cuba because they disgaree politically with the communist regime. There is a difference between political/religious disaproval and being forced to do something (or wear). No one forces him to drink alcohol or eat pork for example.

    “Should a pilot be able to refuse a flight because they personally object with some of the cargo being carried?” – That’s more complex because international law makes the pilot not only responsible for knowing what they transport but also make them responsible in front of the law of what they transport – and that’s why they’re the ones with the last word on cargo and passengers being boarded. I used to work for the border police, and if a captain didn’t want a specific illegal immigrant being expelled by his plane because he seemed too violant/may disturb the flight, he could object to him being boarded/to be unboarded.

  11. Tunisia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations. Separate from the “soft” issue of beliefs, this pilot could face significant difficulties when returning to his country of citizenship or in Israel if something went wrong and he needed consular assistance. It’s a pretty similar to an American pilot not wanting to fly to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus or Venezuela. I’m not trying to say that Israel is anything like Iran or Venezuela here! But please think just about this simple factual issue.

  12. I’m not aware of the diplomatic relations between Israel and Tunisia, but can a Tunisian even enter Israel on their nations passport? If not, then that can be an issue during irregular operations if the pilot has to layover there.

  13. For many asking re Iran, Israel is the most democratic country in the Middle East where Muslims enjoy the most freedom this pilot refusing is a political act, unlike Iran which isn’t a safe place for many who disagree with the Gov or don’t strictly adhere to its rules.

  14. There might be more to this story.Tunisia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations so not sure if he can operate flight there even if he wants to. Also, he might eventually face problems entering his own country if for any reason he gets israeli stamp in his passports (not long ago holders of any passports with stamp of Israel couldn’t enter UAE either).In best case he needs visa, and, with huge cost cutting measures in place for everything now, not sure if Emirates would spend money and time on his visa if they have other pilots who can operate there without problems.Something doesn’t add up here.
    PS Doesnt matter if its a turnaround.Airline must always count with a possibility of a technical issue /weather problem that might force crew to stay overnight or longer than planned

  15. To be fair many airlines don’t assign Pakistani routes to Indian pilots and vice versa, I think Emirates is probably one of them

  16. Remember the MESA flight attendant who was a dreamer, flown to Mexico, and was arrested by ICE on her way back to the U.S.?

  17. Aljazeera writes:

    Editor’s Note: The text in this page originally showed a news story about an alleged Tunisian pilot, Monem al-Taba, who reportedly claimed in a Facebook post he was suspended by the UAE flag carrier Emirates for refusing to fly to Tel Aviv. Emirates has since commented via Twitter saying it “has never employed any pilot by this name and all reports circulating on social media around this are false”. We have therefore retracted the story pending further review.

    https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/13/emirates-airlines-suspend-pilot-who-refused-to-fly-to-tel-aviv

  18. Pilots should have no say in the “political” regions. If you have sensitives in flying into certain regions, maybe the career of a pilot is not for you (The whole point of the job is to safely fly somewhere). The only thing that should matter is their safety and of the passengers. Other than that, suck it up and fly. You are a professional, act like one.

  19. If this story is indeed false, I can see EK/UAE renewing their original reasons for being upset with Al Jazeera/Qatar (Was in the list of demands Saudi made to shut down Al Jazeera before reinstating relations between the countries).

  20. @Daniel

    Palestine includes both Israel and West Bank. Coexist. Palestine is on the map. They even have a fifa sanctioned soccer team

  21. @Sharin
    “ Israel is a western nation, based on democratic values, which have very similar values as the United States. They are a capitalist society with free speech. Israel values all types of people and is very open to immigrants, the LGBTQ and diversity.”

    Except Palestinians, of course.

    Earlier this week an Israeli human rights organisation issued a report by their (Jewish) CEO who pointed out that Israel operates an apartheid system.

  22. I’m a former airline employee. Normally, air crew bid for their preferred routes to fly. They would not bid where they don’t want to go. Granted staff with low seniority have fewer choices, but the company obviously could not send staff where they are legally unable to go. Therefore, this now hypothetical public political grandstanding against the employer should be grounds for dismissal, as would any public insubordination to any employer. Al Jazeera once again strengthens its reputation as an unreliable source.

  23. There have been Security Council resolution criticizing Israeli settlement expansion … if ppl feel strongly against it and are principled and have a moral compass… just like french pilots flying to iran .. what’s wrong with ppl refusing to fly to Israel?

    Btw more then 12 countries criticized Israel on this other then America who continues to support Israel . Rather then looking at reasons why ppl wouldnt fly to iran ppl like Ben and other commenters should avoid double standards and get their head out the sand and see why ppl feel so strongly against it.

  24. Btw more then 12 countries criticized Israel on this other then America who continues to support Israel . Rather then looking at reasons why ppl wouldnt fly to iran ppl like Ben and other commenters should avoid double standards and get their head out the sand and see why ppl feel so strongly against it.

    But then again your the very same ppl that condone and abstain while all others countries are critical and vote against settlement expansion .

    So Israel summoned ambassadors of 12 countries that were againt their plans of settlement expansion lol ..to tell them off

    Resolution 2334

  25. Report news in 20 pt type on front page first, apologize for misleading information in 3 pt type on page 32 a couple of days later.

  26. If this is a true story:

    This pilot is a totally stupid idiot!
    He’s refusing to fly to another country as a pilot of an international operating airline??
    Really??

    He should change his job to a local busdriver…in favour to other pilots who faces get fired due to Covid-19.

    But I guess that this story is fake news.
    As a flight attendant working for a big international operating airline I cannot believe this story to be truth at all….

  27. @The nice Paul
    You are free to have your opinion, even if inaccurate. When posting facts try to be correct.

    The same laws that protect all groups in Israel also protect Palestinians. Those laws can also be used by groups that have their private agenda, often funded by the EU. Visit Israel and see the real facts. Most of what you are thinking of are problems caused by the GAZA and PA governments stealing money from their people.
    And yes, Israel has laws to safely destroy the home of terrorists that cause death. That is the only way to fight a world that promises financial reward for life to the family of a dead or jailed terrorist. If this bothers you please ask yourself why you care not for the victims of terror.

  28. Flight deck crew have the moral obligation to reject a flight if they are deemed unsafe to fly. In this instance the pilot’s own personal political opinion prevents him from psychologically taking part in this flight. Having safety in mind, he should be removed from it and given no remedial action for expressing himself. Safety and free speech go hand in hand.

  29. Ben, I think you’ve conflated two issues in this article which deserve to be separated. One is the free speech rights of employees, which, of course are not a hallmark of Emirati business culture. The other is an invitation to argue about the validity of Israel. Do you really want your column to be a Middle East war zone? It’s rather far afield from your turf, and makes you seem like you’re really all about click-bait, particularly using a retracted Al Jazeera article as your source. I’d rather think of you as a consulting travel connoisseur, where you have a track record of delivering value. I really don’t want to see anybody arguing in this column about the validity of any country, because it’s only divisive, and ends up poisoning your venue.

  30. AFAIK Arabs can live in Israel and have essentially the same rights as Israelis… would this also be the case for an Israeli or a Jew living on any of those countries?

    I’ve always (even before Hillel’s speech at that UN meeting) considered it extremely ironic that people accuse Israel of operating an apartheid, when every Arab state has discriminated Israel and its people.

  31. @Ben Holz “AFAIK … Arabs can live in Israel and have essentially the same rights as Israelis.” Speaking as an American Jew, nope, you’ve got this one wrong.

    I’ll refer you to Israel’s 2018 “nation-state” law, which enshrined Jewish supremacy and Jewish interests in the country’s basic law at the expense of other religious and ethnic minority groups that enjoy Israeli citizenship:
    https://www.vox.com/world/2018/7/31/17623978/israel-jewish-nation-state-law-bill-explained-apartheid-netanyahu-democracy
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_Law:_Israel_as_the_Nation-State_of_the_Jewish_People

    Many of us consider this law a huge mistake: Israel abandoned the pretense of being a Western-style democracy with equality for all guaranteed in law, and now resembles a small-time, amateur-hour theocracy. Israel as with many other countries lacks a Bill of Rights, instead relying on a rather thin tradition of judicial precedent, which makes it fundamentally different and arguably fundamentally inferior to American-style democracy.

  32. I feel it was rather irresponsible running the story and then saying the story was retracted in the headline. Why run it then?
    It’s fine to write an article questioning a pilot or cabin crew’s rights on turning down a trip for certain reasons but you have gone for the sensational aspect by retelling a retracted story. I normally give you the benefit as I’m someone in international media and PR, but this was tabloid.

  33. JW is spot on . fantastic scope for working with a world class airline. As well as the tunisian pilot to stand for elections in tunisian J parties.

  34. Should a pharmacist produce or sell poison used in to execute a death sentence?

    Should a pilot in 1945 refuse to fly for Luftwaffe in Nazi Germany

    Should a soldat participate in overthrowing a government if the commanding officer says so?

    We are humans. We always have the option to follow order or follow our beliefs. The moment we chose to follow orders instead of our beliefs, we not only lose ourself, we lose our humanity.

  35. @Ben Holz
    “AFAIK Arabs can live in Israel and have essentially the same rights as Israelis…”

    Absolutely not true.

    Unless you’re using the legalistic apartheid justification from the old US South or from South Africa, that they are “separate but equal”.

    Here’s a clue: if you have to use the modifier “essentially” then you are NOT describing equality. Equality is one of those simple binaries, like pregnancy: you either are pregnant or you are not. You either have equality or you don’t. In Israel, the Palestinians don’t.

  36. @DT
    “And yes, Israel has laws to safely destroy the home of terrorists that cause death. That is the only way to fight a world that promises financial reward for life to the family of a dead or jailed terrorist. If this bothers you please ask yourself why you care not for the victims of terror.”

    Nice straw man!

    I care for *everyone*, including the innocents in all sides. No-one asked to be born into a world of conflict.

    Historically there are only two ways of dealing with deep-seated conflict: either negotiations and compromise (on all sides); or genocide.

    Margaret Thatcher used to scream at anyone who’d listen that the IRA weren’t even terrorists, they were just murderers — and she would never negotiate with criminals. Such was her hypocrisy that even as she was speaking, her staff were engaged in frantic negotiations with the IRA. Her successor, John Major, then did most of the hard work to craft a settlement before *his* successor, Tony Blair, swept in at the end to claim the glory for the Northern Ireland peace agreement, finally bringing to an end decades of terrorism and the deaths of thousands of innocents.

    Netanyahu’s “tough man” approach is great for political rabble-rousing. It does nothing to put an end to the conflict. If this bothers you please ask yourself why you care not for the victims of terror.

  37. Aaaah, Qatar and Qatar’s Al Jazeera, once the troublemaker in the region, always the troublemaker in the region.

  38. With Emirates employing international staff from all over the planet, forcing someone to fly to TLV would be utterly stupid. They know very well how controversial would that be and they have dozens, if not hundreds of pilots from Europe, Americas and Oceania who will operate a TLV flight any day without any problem. I find it very unlikely those claims were true.

  39. Al Jazeera is a propaganda tool for the Qatari absolute monarchy royal family ! I wonder why westerns still believe in that shitty propaganda machine

    We Arabs do not believe in Palestine anymore , it is a fairytale

  40. @Ben surely you of all people would know that a direct turn is not necessarily that. Shit happens. Planes get delayed, pilots get timed out and it turns into an overnight. Or there is some mechanical issue, etc. Why should a pilot have to risk that when there are surely plenty of other pilots who would not have that problem?

    I realise this is academic at this point, but I just find your argument to be rather specious. Airlines seem to be able to manage doing it, as the Air France case proves. So it doesn’t seem like a tremendous burden, and I can’t think of any argument for forcing the employees into an uncomfortable position when it is completely unnecessary.

  41. If the story is true, why can’t Emirates just accommodate his request? It seems fair for him to not violate his conscience. And we are talking about one flight out of all of the flight options that Emirates offers. Saying he should just not be a pilot seems pretty extreme.

    If a pharmacist doesn’t want to prescribe abortion-inducing drugs, I think that is a reasonable concession for the company to make: it is very small percentage of the drugs that a pharmacist prescribes, many other pharmacists are willing to fill the prescription, and it isn’t the primary function of the job. The same holds true for this pilot. It’s one flight, and it isn’t an unreasonable accommodation.

  42. Almost all the respondents deviated from the correct discourse of the writer.

    Almost everyone is chatting about whether Israel is an apartheid state or not, and about technical things whether to sign passports or not.
    That’s not the issue at all.

    He only gave an example of the need for the question of principle:

    When two opposing forces work and operate, there is no doubt that in this case (which of course was not and was not created) if the pilot were to ask nicely from his own boss, that he is not so comfortable on this flight, I’m sure the boss will understand and put him on another flight,

    But from the moment the pilot opens with populist statements and rebellious stubbornness, his boss has to fire him for the very fact
    That the Emirates airline does not belong to the pilot but to the company!
    If he insists on his principles his hand on the bottom, heaven he might get up but in a business company the simplest thing to flip him right away!

  43. The incident in question never occured. Al Jazeera has retracted the story. Pilots should have the right to refuse to fly certain routes if they want to and airlines should not fire them for it. Al Jazeera is the world’s most courageous television station and Israel is an apartheid regime which treats Palestinians hideously, but there are all separate matters.

    The whole story is fake news. Move on……

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