JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli authorities extensively interrogated a Jewish American activist leaving the country about her work with a non-profit organization, the group said Tuesday.
Israel has come under scrutiny in the past for detaining and interrogating pro-Palestinian activists and prominent critics at its borders, but the Abraham Initiatives called this the first time an advocate of “shared society” between Arabs and Jews inside Israel had been targeted.
The Abraham Initiatives activist Laura Mandel was flying home to San Francisco after attending a conference for the group when security officers at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport pulled her aside for questioning about her involvement with the organization, which aims to advance the rights of Israel’s Arab citizens.
The group is widely considered mainstream, working closely with state agencies and government ministries.
Mandel was, by her account, asked about her activities and contacts in Israel, as well as why an American Jew would be interested in Arab-Jewish relations. She said that after authorities questioned and inspected her for nearly two hours, they confiscated her laptop, medication and other personal belongings, to be returned at the end of the flight.
Israel’s Airport Authority said it was “sorry for having caused offense,” but that it was following security procedures mandated by law.
The Abraham Initiatives, which has headquarters in Lod, near Tel Aviv, New York City and London, linked Mandel’s interrogation to an increasingly hostile political climate, in which “anyone in contact with Arabs, whether citizen or non-citizen, is labelled a potential threat.”
The incident reflects a “deterioration in the state’s relations with its Arab citizens,” the organization said of Israel.
Also, the incident follows Israel’s turbulent election season, marked by divisive campaigning that many Arab citizens call racist incitement. On election day, Arab factions filed a complaint that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party dispatched over 1,000 activists equipped with concealed cameras into polling places in Arab towns. Netanyahu defended the move as helping to secure a “legitimate vote.”
Arab lawmakers, who represent over 20 percent of Israel’s citizens, called the cameras voter intimidation, meant to suppress Arab turnout.
The Abraham Initiatives co-director Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu said he fears Israel’s hard-line atmosphere, exacerbated by the recent passage of laws that Arabs view as discriminatory, have emboldened security forces to “harass not only peace activists,” such as Jewish-American commentator Peter Beinart, who was interrogated about his politics by airport authorities last year, “but also those who promote a shared society among citizens of the state.”
The group pledged to take legal action against the state.