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Foreign Ministry studying case after Druze envoy alleges mistreatment at airport

Ministry urges ‘mutual respect’ at Israel’s ports of entry after Ambassador Reda Mansour posts angry account of being held up by security guard who learned he was from Arab village

Israel's ambassador to Panama, Reda Mansour, lights a candle in memory of Israel's fallen soldiers and terror victims, May 8, 2019 (Facebook page of Israeli Embassy in Panama)
Israel's ambassador to Panama, Reda Mansour, lights a candle in memory of Israel's fallen soldiers and terror victims, May 8, 2019 (Facebook page of Israeli Embassy in Panama)

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday that it is reviewing the case of Israel’s ambassador to Panama, who said security personnel at Ben Gurion Airport delayed him and his family when they found out he was from an Arab village in the country’s north.

The ministry noted that it was in contact with both its envoy and the Israel Airports Authority, saying that when citizens and visitors encounter officials at the entry and exit points to the country, including those working in security, “it must be done professionally and with mutual respect.”

Reda Mansour on Saturday published a summary of his conversation with a security officer at the vehicular entrance to the airport on his Facebook page. He said that as soon as the guard heard the name of his hometown, she told the driver to pull over.

She got into the vehicle and told all the occupants, including Mansour’s wife and two daughters, to present their passports and identify themselves, Mansour wrote.

Illustrative — Security checking cars at the entrance to Ben Gurion International Airport, June 11, 2013 (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

He compared the guard’s tone and body language to an army commander dealing with new soldiers in boot camp.

She asked about their travel plans, and Mansour told her they were going to Paris and then on to Panama, where he worked at the embassy. She asked who was traveling, gave the family a long look-over and let them pass, he said.

Mansour, 54, is a member of Israel’s Druze community and from the Druze-majority village of Ussafiya, near Haifa. He is a veteran diplomat and has previously served as Israel’s ambassador to Brazil and Ecuador.

After the encounter, Mansour wrote that his daughter remarked: “It’s so irritating the way she spoke to you when you were smiling the whole time and answering her politely.”

Mansour concluded the post with strong language, saying “Ben Gurion, you can go to hell. Thirty years of humiliation and it’s still not over. You used to take us apart at the terminal, and now we’re suspects even at the entrance.”

He noted that Ussafiya was not a Palestinian West Bank village, but home to the main cemetery for Druze IDF soldiers, and suggested that airport security officials visit the cemetery.

Israel’s ambassador to Panama Reda Mansour. (YouTube screenshot)

“I have only one thing left to say to you: I feel like vomiting,” he wrote.

In a biting response, the airport said security checks at the airport were carried out “regardless of religion, race or gender.”

“When you meet more than 25 million travelers each year, there will be some who will choose to be insulted by their meeting with the security guard who is only doing her job,” the statement read.

“We too have friends and family, like you do, buried in IDF cemeteries. I suggest the honorable ambassador tell his daughter next time that the security scan is doing everything possible to protect her and the country.”

Israel does not publicly admit to using racial profiling at Ben Gurion Airport, but rights groups and others have alleged mistreatment or harassment of Arabs and other minorities as passengers move through the airfield’s several-tiers of security.

Israeli Arab advocacy group Adalah in 2016 sent a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and Israel Airports Authority Director General Yaakov Ganot, demanding an end to the “illegal practices of strip searching and forcing security escorts on Arab passengers in the airport.” The IAA in response denied any “improper practices.”

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