Letter to Secretary of State Kerry Requesting Equal Application of the Law

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Honorable John F. Kerry
United States Secretary of State
United States Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

April 25, 2016

Dear Secretary Kerry,

We write to thank you for the clarity of your comments concerning Carnival Cruise Line’s policy with regard to Cuban-born travelers on cruises making stops in Cuba because of the mandates of Cuban law.

During your visit to Miami-Dade College on April 21, 2016, you told the media that “Carnival needs to not discriminate” and that “[t]he United States government will never support, never condone discrimination. And the Cuban government should not have the right to enforce on us a policy of discrimination against people who have the right to travel.” You then “call[ed] on the government of Cuba to change that policy, and to recognize that if they want full relations and a normal relationship with the United States, they have to live by international laws, not exclusively by Cuban laws.”

We hope you will extend those same sentiments to a parallel issue of critical importance: the intentional discrimination by Kuwait Airways (KAC)—a wholly owned instrumentality of the State of Kuwait—against Israeli nationals.

You may be familiar with the complaint brought to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on behalf of Eldad Gatt, an Israeli national who attempted to purchase (and was denied) a ticket on a KAC flight from JFK airport in New York to London Heathrow. After a lengthy judicial process and an administrative appeal, DOT found, in a final agency determination, that the airline was operating in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws in refusing to admit passengers on U.S.-based flights because of their national origin.

In response to this DOT determination, KAC chose to flout the law, as well as the privilege of operating in the United States. Instead of coming into compliance with the law and admitting Israelis onboard KAC flights, the airline chose to cancel entirely its route from JFK to London (the only route it was operating to a non-Arab League destination). KAC continues to operate out of JFK, availing itself of the benefits and privileges of doing business in the United States, but now only operates flights to (or through) Kuwait. Apparently, DOT will allow the airline to continue the practice of refusing to admit Israelis on these flights, because Kuwaiti law (like the laws of many other Arab League states) does not recognize Israeli passports as legitimate travel documents and Israeli travelers would be denied entrance upon landing.

In other words, Israeli persons traveling from U.S. origins, as well as Israeli-Americans without American passports are still facing unlawful national origin discrimination because of a transportation carrier applying discriminatory foreign laws in its U.S. operations.

We applaud Carnival’s ultimate decision to admit Cuban-born individuals the same as all other passengers, as well as the cruise line’s efforts to work with the Cuban government to change the problematic law and find ways to eliminate the potential for discrimination. Unfortunately, in its capacity as a parastatal entity, Kuwait Airways is not in a position to negotiate the way Carnival did on behalf of disenfranchised travelers. Without an alternative option, we believe it is the responsibility of the U.S. government to refuse to make U.S. institutions of international travel available to carriers denying access to travelers based on protected class, and, consistent with your comments in the context of the Carnival/Cuba issue, we hope that you will “call on the government of Kuwait to change [its] policy, and to recognize that if they want full relations and a normal relationship with the United States, they have to live by international laws, not exclusively by Kuwaiti laws.” That would mean that KAC must admit all U.S. travelers on KAC flights operating out of U.S. airports, no matter their national origin, and no matter the destination, or KAC must lose the privilege of conducting business here.

We are encouraged to see such a staunch commitment from the U.S. Secretary of State toward the enforcement of U.S. anti-discrimination laws to protect “people who have the right to travel.” Like Cuban nationals and Cuban-Americans, Israeli nationals and Israeli-Americans should undeniably be guaranteed the same protections. We urge you to publicly extend your support to this community of U.S. persons and international travelers facing discrimination under Kuwaiti law, just as you did so vigorously for those facing discrimination under Cuban law.

Sincerely,

Michael Schwartz signature

Michael W. Schwartz
Chairman, The Lawfare Project

Signature_Brooke Goldstein

Brooke Goldstein
Director, The Lawfare Project

cc: Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations