Activist in Jewish-Arab coexistence group suffers ‘humiliation’ at airport
US citizen questioned extensively, searched thoroughly and forced to board without her personal belongings, organization says
A US activist was subjected to a severe and “humiliating” security check at Ben Gurion Airport and prevented from boarding her plane to leave the country with her personal belongings due to her work in a Jewish-Arab coexistence group, the organization said.
Laura Mandel, a Jewish American, is a member of management with The Abraham Initiatives, which champions integration and equality in Israeli society.
The group is widely considered mainstream, working closely with state agencies and government ministries.
When she arrived at the security check for her flight to San Francisco on Saturday and was asked what her business had been in Israel, she stated her work with the group. That led to a lengthy questioning about herself, her work and the organization. Among other things, the activist recounted being asked why “an American Jew should care about Jewish-Arab relations.”
The woman then underwent an exhaustive examination of her belongings and person and was eventually informed that all of her personal belongings would be sent to the aircraft’s cargo hold. She was not allowed to take her laptop, sweater, glasses, pillow or personal hygiene products. When she protested about not being allowed to bring on board medication she had planned to take, she was given a glass of water and invited to take it in front of security personnel.
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 Abraham Initiatives chiefs Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu and Dr. Thabet Abu-Ras said “the delay and humiliation of our management member show the deterioration of the state’s attitude towards its Arab citizens. Anyone who cares about equality and coexistence and anyone with relations to Arabs… is deemed a potential threat.”
The group vowed to take legal action following the incident.
The Israel Airports Authority said it “regrets” the passenger’s feelings that she had been mistreated and said its security procedures are directed by the government and are in accordance with the law.
Airport security measures have been called into question over the past year amid claims they are used to intimidate some visitors over their political views.
A number high-profile cases of Jewish and non-Jewish Israel critics and others being detained and interrogated at the airport over their views have drawn condemnation.
American Jewish journalist and critic of the Israeli government Peter Beinart said last year he was questioned on his political views upon arriving in the country for his niece’s bat mitzvah. A prominent Iranian-American author later recounted a similar experience and an interrogation he said was akin to those in “police states.”
Others who have said they were held up at the airport include Simone Zimmerman, a co-founder of the progressive Jewish group IfNotNow; Abby Kirschbaum, who works for an Israeli-Palestinian tour company; and the novelist Moriel Rothman-Zecher.
The attorney general’s office investigated the allegations and has since acknowledged that some Shin Bet and border officials at the borders behaved in ways that did not conform to the legal and policy restrictions.
A law passed in 2017 allows the Interior Ministry to bar entry for supporters of the BDS movement, which encourages boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Under the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, Israeli citizens may not be prevented from entering the country.
In January Israeli authorities pushed back against accusations that it was invading the privacy of visitors by asking them to fill out a form including queries about their free time activities and acquaintances in the country. The Israel Airports Authority insisted the form has been around for 10 years, claimed that it was voluntary, and said it was designed to streamline airport security measures for those who come to Israel as part of a trip hosted by certain organizations.
AP contributed to this report.