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Jeffrey Goldberg: TLV airport security should ask me if I'm Jewish

Journalist Jeffrey Goldberg just flew out of Israel and decided to write a post revering security at Israel’s Ben-Gurion airport, comparing it to the much less effective and what he considers more humiliating American airport security. (I do agree with him that Israeli security is way more effective than American security, since Israel is indeed better at racial profiling).

He appreciates that he doesn’t have to worry about packing his nail clippers and understands that non-Jews face problems at the airport –  he notes that he knows of some Arab-Israelis and Arab-Americans who have been stuck in the screening proces for a whopping two hours.

But despite his appreciation for the well-honed army profiling skills of the screeners, after being asked what “community” he belongs to at the airport, he has come to the conclusion that the screening line at Ben-Gurion could run smoother and faster, and he has just the solution:

I noticed that the line to be screened was quite long this morning, and it struck me that if these screeners simply cut to the chase on this one crucial question [Are you Jewish?], they’d be able to process passengers more quickly. I think the process at Ben-Gurion is sufficiently invasive that direct questions aren’t going to be judged terribly offensive.

Goldberg has no problem with being asked personal and invasive questions, since its better than having to take his shoes off. He thinks that if Israeli security wants to know whether someone is Jewish, they should just directly ask so as to expedite the process, instead of beating around the bush about it.

For whatever reason, Israeli security screeners won’t ask departing passengers whether or not they are Jewish. But they are nevertheless desperate to know.

He reasons that its fine to just ask someone straight out because there is no room for “political correctness” at the airport anyway. Apparently Goldberg hasn’t read my colleague Aziz’s post on the regular harassment he has experienced at the airport as a regular traveler for work – or this one either. Goldberg’s boasting of just how much less humiliating the Israeli airport security experience is compared to America’s – because there are “no TSA-naked-scanning machines to be found”  – completely ignores the routine humiliation that Palestinians must go through. Furthermore, is Goldberg implying that all security needs to know is whether a traveler is a Jew because a Jew could never pose a threat to airport security?

What annoyed me most about this post is that Goldberg, with a name like his, feels he is in a position to not only judge the merits of Israeli airport security – but to offer a way to make it faster, since he cannot be bothered to wait in line that long.


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    1. jalal

      Wait, I don’t think I clearly understand this phrase
      quote: “(I do agree with him that Israeli security is way more effective than American security, since Israel is indeed better at racial profiling)”

      Are you saying that racial profiling leads to better security? mhm.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Mairav Zonszein

      @Jalal – I was being cynical. But there is no doubt that Israeli security is more effective than American, since it is not about what a traveler is carrying or their racial identity, but how they behave.

      Reply to Comment
    3. a completely moot and nonsensical argument.
      1.anyone can say they are jewish. security is required to ask indirect questions to establish a sense of an actual interface/social network and to see if they can gauge the mood, anxiety level, and truthfulness of any answers.
      2. if you go to the Israeli consulate, where 99% of the visitors are Jewish, the security is even tighter than at any airport.
      3.since my first visit back to Israel as a child of 6 in the 60s, I was given a full pat-down body search by a woman security agent in a private area. I was f%#@ing born there, and they still patted me down. never ever have I felt more secure that getting on El Al in those days. I still prefer a pat-down any day over EMF generating scanners of any kind. grow up people.
      The main problem with the TSA in US is they don’t have high-level trained specialists doing the screening. you get what you pay for.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Bill Pearlman

      Maybe they should leave airport security in the hands of the people who are already doing it. And are doing a great job.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Andrew

      It seems that Goldberg will defend almost any form of racial discrimination, as long as it is performed in what he perceives to be the interests of Israel’s remaining “a Jewish state”.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Jon

      “is Goldberg implying that all security needs to know is whether a traveler is a Jew because a Jew could never pose a threat to airport security?”

      Yes, as history and common sense have taught us, the odds of a Jew carrying out a terrorist attack in an Israeli airport, are much smaller than a non-Jew. It isn’t racism, it’s statistics.

      Reply to Comment
      • adam

        Statistics? Are you fricking nuts?? Hey, in that case, Netanyahu’s security should only focus on sanitising the area for Jews and let any wacko Arab come as close to the PM as he wants.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Steve

      Israel is a Jewish-majority states that has made major problems with terrorism from Arab Muslims. So, Israel is very suspicious of some Arab Muslims.
      When war and terrorism against Israel stops forever, Israel will not have to be suspicious anymore.
      That’s how it goes.
      Hopefully there’s peace someday.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Lauren

      As an American who has to travel for business, I can’t stand being treated as though I’m a criminal just for wanting to move about. I have so far avoided the scanners (cancer causing x-rays)and never been pulled out of line.
      If there is anyone to thank for these draconian laws, it would be the NYPD (who has been trained by the IDF), Homeland Security (who takes its direction from AIPAC and other lobbies)and the proffiteers who continue to humiliate and degrade us to support the false war on terror while making billions.
      If you look at the morons that the TSA hires, they have never stopped a terrorist. Several testers have gotten through with weapons while the TSA focuses on robbing passengers and molesting women and children. I try to drive as much as I can.

      Reply to Comment
    9. On my first ever visit, as a nineteen-year-old tourist, I was taken aside because my passport contains stamps for other Middle Eastern countries and asked, “Do you have any Arab friends?” I said yes. The immediate follow-up: “Why?”
      Now I would know to answer, “Why not? Why haven’t you got any?” but at the time I was too startled to do anything other than say weakly that I had had Arab classmates at my school. As though a question like that deserves to be dignified with an answer.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Bill Pearlman

      You know Vicky, I know your not going to admit it but Israel has real security concerns. And guess what, its with Arabs. I know that offends your sensibilities but back here on planet earth that’s the way it is.

      Reply to Comment
    11. hasbarista

      Maybe Israel would reduce its security concerns if it stopped attacking its neighbors and stealing the land of others. But no – that would eliminate the very heart of its existence. The reason you have security concerns with Arabs is that they have much greater security concerns with you.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Isaiah

      @Mairav Zonszein – You contradict yourself.

      Your cynical comment, “Israeli security is way more effective than American security, since Israel is indeed better at racial profiling” unequivocally asserts that Israeli security is effective because it employs racial profiling tactics (i.e. the use of an individual’s race or ethnicity, rather than behavior, as a key factor in deciding whether to engage in law enforcement).

      You contradict yourself when you write in the comments section above, “there is no doubt that Israeli security is more effective than American, since it is NOT ABOUT what a traveler is carrying or THEIR RACIAL IDENTITY, but how they behave.”

      Please be less cavalier, or at least more consistent, with your assertions.

      Reply to Comment
    13. aristeides

      So they ask me if I’m a Jew. I say, “Sure I am!” So how do they know if I’m telling the truth? Without taking down my pants, which gets back to that intrusive naked thing.

      As an American, Goldberg’s passport doesn’t list his religion. Maybe he thinks his name is his passport. But what of all the Smiths, some of whom are Jewish, more are not.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Bill Pearlman

      Asking if your Jewish isn’t good enough. Phil Weiss has said that he hates Israelis and wish they were dead. And he is Jewish

      Reply to Comment
    15. aristeides

      Phil Weiss has said no such thing. You are a liar, a slanderer and should be banned.

      Reply to Comment
    16. UmmEinav

      I remember being asked at the airport, as I came to visit many times as a tourist, whether or not I went to some kind of Jewish School. I always was so offended by this, because I for one, did not go to a Jewish school, but to a public one, and didn’t understand at the time, what difference did it make to Ben Gurion airport officials about my Jewish – or lack thereof – upbringing. Although certainly Ben Gurion airport officials as well as El Al airlines puts Palestinian citizens of Israel and anyone of Arab or Muslim descent through humiliation that is unheard of elsewhere, the fact is that they also know how to raise the blood pressure of secular assimilated American Jews as well.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Piotr Berman

      Many years ago I visited Israel, and on the way out I was interrogated. Nobody asked me if I am Jewish, just why I visited Israel, whom I contacted (contacts included a cousin, cousins of my father etc. and they did not ask if I am halachically Jewish). A number of questions was outright weird, like why I did cross Swedish/Danish border so many times, why I purchased tickets in Stockholm (especially that my explanation was that tickets were perhaps printed in Stockholm but purchased in Lund, many questions on that). And it was deeply suspicious that I travelled without any papers while ostensibly visiting Israel to write something. OK.

      Slightly less OK that I had to answer the same series of questions to three agents. I was getting ready to do it 4th time when the conversation was interrupted by one of my cousins who escorted her visitor to the airport and noticed me. What was weird to me that my cousin concluded that the screeners had to have a concrete reason, perhaps I was on some list as a radical, which 20 years ago really should not be the case. But I was young, traveling alone with skimpy luggage.

      My point is that with an obvious surplus of time that the screeners have they can be totally unnecessary pain in the neck. What I was supposed to do during 4th round of questioning: forget my answers, break down and start to sob “arrest me”, develop some nervous ticks (I think I was too relaxed)? And why my mental state etc. is so important if they could easily check all my possessions?

      With the advent of increasingly sophisticated technologies, airport security can check in seconds if you are dangerous or not. The rest is make-work. Giving attention to a passenger for more than an hour is makework and harrasment. For a few hours — outright assertion of supremacy and hostility.

      Reply to Comment
    18. “You know Vicky, I know your not going to admit it but Israel has real security concerns. And guess what, its with Arabs.”
      Quizzing me on the Arab children I went to school with at the age of eight is not relevant to security. Nor is an interrogation on the style of skirt I happen to be wearing (one border policewoman decreed it ‘too long’, which was apparently a source of much suspicion). In one interrogation we even got on to the romantic and sexual life of my friend Orit in Nahalot. I had no idea that her intimate life was of such an explosive nature as to interest the border guard.
      The type of questions put to you by security range from the irrelevant to the invasive, and if you are a Palestinian (or a known activist), it has the potential to get much worse. Maysoon Zaid is a Palestinian-American comedian with cerebral palsy. She runs a charity in the West Bank for children who have her condition. On her way to the USA after a visit to her organisation, she was pulled aside at Ben-Gurion for extra questioning and a thorough strip-search. She was menstruating. Her sanitary pad was taken from her and the guards who searched her refused to replace it. (One security woman started to cry at this, and was sent out of the room.) By the time Maysoon was wheeled onto her flight, her skirt was soaked in blood and she was in floods of tears. The flight attendants had to loan her some of their own clothes to wear on the journey. She had been denied permission to take her hand luggage onto the flight, which meant that she didn’t have access to necessary medication. (Her request to take that with her was denied.) Then there was the case of the Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, a known peace and justice activist, who was stripped and ‘internally searched’ by security staff on her departure from Israel. Questions on the ethnicity of a passenger’s old school friends are the very least of the problem here. As Piotr has identified, it is an assertion of power.
      “I know that offends your sensibilities but back here on planet earth that’s the way it is.”
      Not just my sensibilities. Logic too. Are we to believe that sanitary pads pose an existential threat to the state of Israel? That Holocaust survivors are in the habit of smuggling out contraband hidden in their anuses or vaginae? All this was done in the name of security, a rationale that reminds me of the tale of the emperor’s new clothes.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Piotr Berman

      January 9, 2006. Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity.
      In other words, it’s OK to flame someone on a mailing list or in a blog as long as you do it under your real name. Thank Congress for small favors, I guess.

      Now we need to check if Bill Pearman is really Bill Pearman: he (she?) is annoying.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Bill Pearlman

      Hedy Epstein spent the war in England. And took a spot on the kindertransport from some kid who was gassed and probably wouldn’t have spent their time cheering for the deaths of other Jews like madame Epstein.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Piotr Berman

      I trust that Pearlman is posting under his real name, so he is annoying quite legally. But his post, and more careful reading of Goldberg article let me realize a vital function of airport security in Israel.

      You see, there is no point asking if Mr. Goldberg or Mr. Berman is a Jew. But unlike American, Jews come in many grade, from mediocre to superior. Again, Mr. Berman with Polish passport did not have to be asked what quality of Jew he is. One could bet that he does not belong to any congregation and has Communists (former) in his family. Pretty mediocre grade. In the case of Mr. Goldberg, the congregation to which he belongs was attesting to his quality.

      Mrs. Epstein is a very bad kind of Jew. Now one of the function of the Jewish state is to provide Jews with what they deserve, according to their grade. And in the case of enemies, yes, give them just deserts.

      Look like Pearlman justifies the treatment of Hedy Epstein: she is a bad person. Not dangerous, but bad. This implies that in his opinion it is OK to use airport security to express attitude to bad people. If so, the conversation with screeners is essential component of the system. If we merely want to make passengers secure, we need to check for weapons and explosives. But if we want to humiliate the bad people, we need to spend some time to figure if they are good or bad. And the conversation itself can be mildly annoying to express mild disapproval.

      I recall ynet article how Dan Rather wanted to interview Netanyahu and his TV crew was humiliated by body search, most intense in the case of Israeli-Arab cameraman. Most of the commenters were jubilant, some expressing dismay that Mr. Rather anus was not inspected, as he richly deserved it for his attitude toward Israel. The consensus seems to be that it is proper to use security procedures to punish the wicked people.

      Reply to Comment
    22. aristeides

      I suppose I shold consider Bill Pearlman an asset, as he so clearly shows the ugly side of Zionism.

      Reply to Comment
    23. zayzafuna

      i never travel thru Bengurion airport. When I want to visit Palestine, ie Al Quds, Jaffa, Haifa, I travel thru Amman

      Reply to Comment
    24. Zvi

      Israeli airport security is certainly based on profiling, but there are many different elements which go into the profile…. As for the seemingly inane questions, this tactic is often used for the express reason of intentionally aggravating someone. The way that one reacts to aggravation can be used to evaluate one’s frame of mind. For better or for worse, the techniques have proven to be more effective than purely technological screenings.

      @Zayzafuna – how long does it take to cross from Jordan into Israel? Perhaps there is less emphasis on physical screenings at land borders, but in my experience the crossing was painfully slow!

      Reply to Comment
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