PM, Rivlin call envoy who blasted airport racial profiling, express solidarity
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PM, Rivlin call envoy who blasted airport racial profiling, express solidarity

While Netanyahu stops short of commenting on alleged mistreatment of Reda Manour, president calls on public to empathize with what the ambassador endured

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and President Reuven Rivlin attend a ceremony in memory of deceased Israeli presidents and prime ministers held at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on June 17, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and President Reuven Rivlin attend a ceremony in memory of deceased Israeli presidents and prime ministers held at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on June 17, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin spoke on Sunday to Israel’s Ambassador to Panama Reda Mansour, who is Druze, and expressed solidarity with him after he said security personnel at Ben Gurion Airport delayed him and his family when they found out he was from an Arab village.

Netanyahu “expressed deep appreciation for the way in which he represents the State of Israel in Panama,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said. “[The premier] said that the Druze community is dear to our hearts and that we would continue to act in every way to strengthen the brotherly bond with them.”

Rivlin’s statement more directly addressed the allegations made by Mansour.

“Without getting into details of the incident, which is being investigated, I emphasized that what matters is what he felt, and if he was hurt we must give it our attention,” Rivlin tweeted. He hailed the alliance between Israel’s Jewish majority and Druze minority, calling it a “life covenant.”

“We must ensure that we are worthy of [the Druze-Jewish relationship] at all times, and not merely in times of crisis and war,” wrote Rivlin.

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

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

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

Mansour, 54, is 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.

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.”

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.

He 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.

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

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

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.”

Earlier Sunday, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was reviewing the case.

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.”

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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