One of the other passengers on the flight, Khen Rotem, recounted the Thursday evening incident on his Facebook page.
"The planned takeoff time: Six in the evening. Everyone boards, sits down, waits. Then the commotion starts. Four Haredim who boarded the flight refuse to sit next to women."
Rotem said one of the Haredi men, "particularly zealot and ascetic, boarded the plane with his eyes shut tight, led by the hand by his friend, and remained that way throughout the entire flight."
"The flight crew tries to resolve the matter, but it isn't working. The flight attendants male way to the authoritative men on board—the customer service manager and someone who appeared to be the head of the crew—who try to resolve the crisis. The Haredim were unwilling to speak with—or look at—the female flight attendants. All of the men on the flight crew, apart from the captain, were now focused solely on this, instead of preparing for takeoff and serving the passengers. The Haredim won't blink first. One crew member threatens: 'If you don't sit down, you can get off the plane now.'"
Eventually, Rotem wrote, "after many minutes of negotiations, the crew gave in. And then a prolonged diplomatic process began of moving female passengers from their seats to clear a row of seats for the four Haredim.
"After a lot of twists and turns, shouting and maneuvering, two women (one American around 70 years old and the other a young Israeli woman) agreed—because of time constraints among other things—to switch seats, and the crisis was resolved."
At the end of the ordeal, "the flight crew, which ran up and down the aisles for over an hour, appeared exhausted even before takeoff, though I assume they're used to such scenes."
He also noted that "for there to be no doubt: The women were not upgraded to better seats, only moved to different seats in economy. Not that it's relevant to the principle of the matter, of course."
According to the passenger, other religious Jews aboard the plane "expressed surprise and disgust at the Haredim's behavior."
The scene caused by the Haredi passengers delayed the flight by an hour and 15 minutes. "While those on the El Al plane were busy with matters of practical theology and issues of personal beliefs as they clash with an individual's rights and public order, 12 planes of other companies passed us in line," Rotem wrote.
The passenger raised important questions over the whole experience. "Is there an official policy about such matters? And if so, what is it? And can any passenger demand—and have his demand met—to move other passengers from their seats for his personal wellbeing and based on his private beliefs? Or is this a privilege reserved to only one sector among the passengers?"
El Al responded to Rotem's post, saying, "Hello Khen. We apologize if any inconvenience was caused. Any discrimination of passengers is strictly forbidden. El Al's flight attendants do all they can to provide service to a wide variety of passengers and fulfill a variety of different requests, trying to assist as much as they can. All of this is done in order to take off on time and bring the passengers to their destination according to schedule."