There’s a long list of American companies doing business in Saudi Arabia and presumably playing ball with a government that regularly discriminates against women and non-Muslims in ways big and small. That’s the price of global capitalism.
But sometimes the bald fact of these deals with the devil can’t be overlooked. Last week, the Internet site World Net Daily kicked up a storm when it reported on a partnership between Delta Airlines and Saudi Arabian Airlines. While the Saudis deny that they discriminate against passengers based on their religion, our State Department warns that “there have been reports by U.S. citizens that they were refused a Saudi visa because their passports reflected travel to Israel or indicated that they were born in Israel.”
In response to a traveler who wanted to know if Delta would cooperate in a policy that disproportionately affected Jews, the airline was by turns defensive, callous, and eager to pass the buck. Eventually it acknowledged that it was not responsible for its international partner and that, besides, other airlines are involved in similar partnerships with Saudi carriers.
Not surprisingly, this has not mollified critics of Delta, who suggest that “everybody does it” is no defense of a bad policy. The Anti-Defamation League acknowledged the difficulties of doing business with global partners who do not share our values, but in a statement suggested that Delta and airlines with similar deals now have an opportunity to strike a small blow for human rights and dignity. “We expect Delta, and any other American airline which flies to Riyadh or partners with an airline that flies there, to ensure that its passengers — whatever their faith — not be discriminated against, and that no American airline in any way enable or facilitate this discrimination, whatever the regulations of Saudi Arabia,” wrote the ADL.
We look forward to Delta’s response and will cheer if they make it plain that they will not be a party to discrimination. But let’s not pretend that this will make more than a dent in the kingdom’s armor. Airplanes aren’t the only things that run on petroleum.