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Will El Al Step Down From its High Heels?

At my cousin’s Israeli wedding, her groom made a single concession to formal dress: He agreed to keep his shirt tucked in during the huppah ceremony. Whether because of its socialist roots or the hot and sticky weather, Israeli style tends toward the casual. This can include sandals and t-shirts for business meetings, and short sleeves sans tie for charity dinners.

But as in so many other areas, styles are changing to approach Western standards. Most recently El Al, Israel’s national airline, decided that a stepped-up appearance could help its business. Until recently, female flight attendants wore 10-centimeter high-heeled shoes — known as “naalayim yitzugiot,” or display shoes — only to embark and disembark from the plane. They switched into flat work shoes to prepare the plane and serve passengers. According to a new directive announced Friday, high heels must be worn until all passengers are seated. A former flight attendant a slightly different version of the requirement to Walla saying that the company replaced the flat work shoes entirely, swapping them for five-centimeter heels. El Al’s spokesperson responded by saying that the new shoes are wide, orthopedic, and comfortable, and that many employees prefer to wear them abroad while waiting for the flight home.

Hundreds of flight attendants objected to the new rule, arguing that high heels were inappropriate for helping passengers with luggage, pushing carts, and lifting cartons of food and drink. “We are happy to be well groomed, clean, smiling and made-up — that comes to us naturally,” said flight attendant Daniella Chen Shnor on Facebook. But we do demand to work in safety and not be discriminated against because of our gender.” On Monday, the workers’ committee voted to ignore the new guidelines.

On the political end, Knesset member and former head of the Zionist Camp party, Shelly Yahimovich, was the first to speak up, suggesting that the male executives at El Al begin to wear high heels.

A social media protest with the hashtag, “bli akavim,” without heels, sprouted quickly. Female Knesset members posted images of their flat shoes, including Zionist Camp MK Tzippi Livni and Likud MK Gila Gamaliel, Minister of Senior Citizen Affairs. Livni wore flats London while attending a Fortune Magazine conference on Strong Women, and speaking at the House of Lords on Israel’s actions in the war last summer. Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharar posted her flats from the vantage of her wheelchair, stating that she never wears heels.

The airline industry is one of the last to hold on to outdated gender distinctions. While male fight attendants are thankfully no longer rare, and the only appearance requirement, officially at least, involves height, El Al is behind the times in expecting its female attendants to walk sexily and precariously despite the risk to employees and passengers.

El Al’s own safety illustration of plane evacuation shows an image of a crossed-out high-heeled shoe, emphasizing the danger to travelers in case of emergency. Will El Al step down from its high heels? If not, it’s time for the courts and the legislature to step in.

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