The director general of Saudi Arabian Airlines has defended his company’s decision to discriminate against Israeli citizens by refusing to fly them from US airports, according to Arabic media.
The New York City Public Advocate, who acts as an ombudsman, last week threatened to expel the airline from New York’s John F Kennedy Airport because it refuses to sell tickets to Israeli-passport holders.
Bill de Blasio said the discrimination breached US federal law.
The airline’s director general, Khalid al-Melhem, said the discrimination policy was acceptable because Saudi Arabia does not recognise Israel as a country.
“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,” Melhem told the Saudi Al-Watan newspaper.
“[Diplomatic relations] also apply to transit passengers. In case the plane is delayed, the passenger will have to enter the country, and at that point it would be very difficult to let him into [Saudi Arabia] if there are no diplomatic relations.”
De Blasio said he had formally written to the airline warning that unless it changed its policy he would move to have it banned from US airports.
“Saudi Arabian Airlines uses US airports and yet bans Israeli citizens from being able to fly on their airline,” Bill de Blasio was quoted as saying in the New York Post.
“[If the airline does not change its policy] we will act to make sure they’re excluded from United States airports, starting with JFK.”
US federal law states that 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, religion, sex or ancestry”.
It is the second time Saudia’s policy towards Israelis has caused anger in the US, which is the Jewish state’s closest ally.
In 2011, the American Jewish community protested against the alliance between Saudia and American carrier Delta based on its rumoured policy not to allow Israeli passport holders on board.
De Blasio said while the discriminatory policy was only a rumour in 2011, it was now clearly official.
“It’s quite formal now. You can see with your own eyes on their website,” he told The Algemeiner newspaper.
“And by now making it official they violate our laws. We need to make sure they are excluded from the American market or they change their policy and act according to our laws.”