Laura Mandel, a U.S. citizen and board member of the Abraham Initiatives, which promotes equality between Jews and Arabs, was detained Saturday night at Ben-Gurion International Airport as she was flying home to San Francisco. As reported by Noa Landau on Tuesday, she was asked by security inspectors what she had done in Israel, what the NGO was all about, who its members are, and, to top it off, “Why would an American Jew be interested in relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel?”
After more than an hour of questioning, having every item in her hand luggage examined and undergoing a pat-down, Mandel was allowed to board her flight, but without her personal belongings. Among the items taken from her and checked into the plane’s hold was a sweater she wanted for the long flight, since she was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, along with personal hygiene products, her phone and laptop, glasses, a pillow and a book. When she asked to be allowed to take her medication onto the plane with her, she was given a cup of water by security personnel and told to take the medicine in front of them.
The Israel Airports Authority did not deny the details, and expressed regret “for the passenger’s feelings over the security check.” According to authority officials, her belongings were taken from her because during the luggage inspection her luggage was flagged, and that everything was done in accordance with the law. This doesn’t explain the shameful attitude toward her once she revealed her membership in a Jewish-Arab organization, or why she was asked about her perfectly legitimate activities in the first place.
The method used by security inspectors to mark various groups is based on profiling (discrimination informed by statistics) with regard to ethnic groups. Recent cases in which passengers were detained at the airport clearly indicate that human rights activists and members of left-wing organizations are being marked as a group. The airport is a public area where Arab citizens, Palestinians (assuming they can even get to the airport) and left-wing activists are routinely marked; now it seems that even those who meet Arabs as part of a routine, welcome activity are being marked similarly.
The Abraham Initiatives has for 30 years worked in complete cooperation with various authorities in Israel, including government ministries and defense agencies. Mandel’s detention and humiliation indicate further erosion in the attitude of the authorities toward organizations identified with the left, and an increase in the level of suspicion regarding Jewish-Arab cooperation.
When prominent American journalist Peter Beinart was detained at Ben-Gurion last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hastened to issue an official apology in English. But when we’re talking about Arab citizens or ordinary left-wing activists, no one apologizes. There must be an end to the thought police and the abuse of people entering and leaving the country.