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Racial profiling on Tel Aviv beaches: A shared U.S.-Israeli value?

Inspectors in Tel Aviv once responsible for keeping beaches clean can now stop people they suspect of illegally residing in Israel. Like Arizona’s notorious S.B.1070 law, this could result in gross violations of the rights of both Israeli citizens and immigrants. Is this what politicians mean by “shared values?”

By Paul Karolyi

Politicians take every opportunity to tell us that the United States and Israel share values. It is those common ideals that bind us together in a “special relationship.” Rarely do they get specific about what those values are. Recent immigration reform laws passed in the United States and a discriminatory new regulation violating the rights of the Arab Palestinian minority in Israel together elucidate one shared value: suspicion.

On April 23, 2010 Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona signed a package of new immigration reforms, S.B. 1070, into law. This law was the manifestation of a new strategy for stemming the tide of illegal immigration. Each provision of S.B. 1070 was intended to establish a policy of “attrition by enforcement,” designed to make illegal immigrants want to give up and go back home.

U.S. federal law requires aliens age 14 and older to register with the government if in the United States longer than 30 days, and to have registration documents in their possession at all times. Of all the provisions of S.B. 1070, the Supreme Court reviewed four. Those provisions stated the following: it made it a state misdemeanor in Arizona for any alien to not carry their required documents; it allowed police officers to arrest a person without a warrant if the officer suspected they committed a crime worthy of deportation; it made it a criminal act for an immigrant to apply for or hold a job without immigration papers; and it allows officers to check the immigration status of detained persons if they suspect they are in the country illegally.

On June 25, 2012, the United States Supreme Court deemed the first three provisions I list above, leaving the last, and most controversial, portion intact.  This last provision of S.B. 1070, and its now-infamous “reasonable suspicion” caveat has led to a renewal of political bickering in an ongoing immigration debate.  It also has made life for undocumented immigrants very difficult.  Every government official can act as an immigration agent as far as Arizona is concerned, because every official can demand to see papers in cases of “reasonable suspicion.”

So it goes. “Reasonable suspicion” now joins “pursuit of happiness” and “freedom” in the pantheon of American values.

In a far less publicized affair, Israel recently changed regulations for beach inspectors in a manner that mimics the Arizona immigration law.  An article in Haaretz from August 5, 2012 describes a scene on Jerusalem Beach in Tel Aviv recently.  The author, Roy Arad, was relaxing and enjoying the good weather when he saw a pair of beach inspectors asking a group of men for their identification cards.  Arad was surprised, because these officials were formerly tasked only with the management of litter levels and the intimidation of scallywags.

What Arad witnessed was the beach inspectors new responsibilities, which now include keeping an eye out for “suspicious characters” and turning them in to the police. It is important to note that the beach inspectors cannot make arrests, but only stop and demand ID from anyone they suspect is in the country illegally.

Most of Israel’s famously beautiful public beaches are free to enjoy for everybody. But this new regulation authorizing beach inspectors to act as immigration agents makes the environment is much less hospitable. Any Palestinian citizen of Israel, along with asylum seekers from Africa, can be profiled by these untrained beach inspectors. This can lead to harassment for mere suspicion that the beachgoer is a Palestinian from the West Bank in Israel illegally, without a special permit.. The beach may be free and beautiful, but if constant haranguing from people who until recently were only responsible for picking up trash gets too irritating, they could also become ethnically homogenous. Only those who do not look like undocumented immigrants will be able to enjoy the sun and the surf without fear of government interference.

Every citizen of Israel (though we mustn’t forget that even non-citizen Palestinians who are targeted on the beaches are natives to this land) should have the right to walk free of constant suspicion, just as America should be the land willing to take in “your huddled masses, yearning to break free.” In the case of the beaches of Tel Aviv, this is another case of discrimination against the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel, and it must stop.

Paul Karolyi is an American living in Nazareth.  He works for the Arab Association for Human Rights and tweets for them @ArabHRA. 

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    1. kelly, toronto

      I still think there is a big difference. The Arizona law was passed only by one state out of 50, and resulted in many Americans boycotting the state. It also remains to be seen how “reasonable suspicion” will be defined. The Israeli law is a national law, and no one in Israel seems to be too bothered by it. If no one is bothered by this new law, then one suspects that “reasonable suspicion” will be defined much more broadly in Israel than in the US.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn9

      Americans boycotting Arizona? Where did you get that nonsense?

      The purpose of the law is to keep the infiltrators off the beach because there were repeated cases of them using the beaches to steal valuables. Along with the theft of bicycles and cell phones it had turned into the primary drivers of the economy among the infiltrators. Tourism contributes large amounts of money to the Israeli economy and it would be bad for it to be seen as a destination where crime has an impact on tourists.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Kolumn9

      Kelly, sure, there have been cities that have been blackmailed by idiots into passing resolutions. This has been more than counteracted by the various other people actually making plans in Arizona because of that ruling. The number of tourists visiting Arizona was up in 2011 from previous years.

      I hope you have been educated about Americans and their supposed boycott of Arizona.

      There is no racism in enforcing immigration law and there is absolutely no legal restrictions in Israel on authorities checking identification papers. That this kind of regulation also forces out infiltrators who have made stealing bags at the beach an industry is an added benefit that helps tourism.

      Reply to Comment
    4. kelly, toronto

      Kolumn9, Calling my opinions nonsense and American voters idiots is uncalled for. It is not “nonsense” if I can provide an example. You may not agree, but there is no need for such aggression. And just because you don’t agree with the LA residents who supported the boycott doesn’t make them idiots.
      I still disagree with you, but I refuse to respond anymore to someone who calls people who doen’t agree “idiots”. I used to respect your opinions from reading your frequent comments on 972. This is no longer the case.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Shlomo Krol

      There is a real problem, one must admit. The migrants are denied work in Israel. They need to eat something. The gangs of young immigrants roam the beaches and steal. I witnessed it myself, everybody knows that they do.

      Now, racial profiling is not the proper way of dealing with the problems of integration of the migrants. The whole policy of Israel in this regard is disastrous and inhumane, it will backfire in the future.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ella

      Kolumn9: It is ABSOLUTELY racism. As a white Jewish Israeli, I have never been asked for my id at the beach, or on the street, or entering any building.
      My Indian husband (a Jewish Israeli) is asked all the time. The way the ID law is applied is absolutely racist.

      If you don’t have a problem with it…then my guess is that you don’t fit the profile of any discriminated class in Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    7. LS

      Kolumn9 – as a regular (Jewish) visitor to Israel what I like most about the beach and promenade in TA is that it is enjoyed by both Arabs and Jews. In fact on my last visit the only person who tried to steal from me was a Jewish bus-driver on the airport shuttle to Jerusalem who thought he could short-change me without me noticing. When I asked him to give me the correct change he threw the remaining coins at my feet. Meanwhile in Jericho, Ramallah and East Jerusalem I was treated fairly and courteously on public transport and in shops and cafes.

      Reply to Comment
    8. For what it’s worth, Arizona 1070 is even weaker than portrayed herein. The day after the Supreme Court decision, Secretary for Homeland Security (and former Governor of Arizona) Janet Neapolitano (maybe misspelled) suspended the federal deputy status of Arizona agents. Being illegally in the country is a federal crime, not a State crime. Before, the Federal government had deuputized Arizona State agents so that the latter could arrest illegals. So, at the moment, Arizona agents can hold you until they determine you are illegal–then they have to let you go, as they have no federal enforcement power. Arizona 1070 was effectively gutted by the Supreme Court. I live in Arizona, and am fine with the Chief Justice Roberts controlled decision. Tea Partiers are not happy.
      Neapolitono’s act is clearly related to the upcoming November Presidential election, where Hispanics are in play.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Bluegrass Picker of Afula

      >> racial profiling is not the proper way of dealing with the problems of integration of the migrants

      Very true…. ==if== you think they need to be retained and integrated.

      Reply to Comment
    10. America might have had a motto of being a new home for all those yearning for freedom, etc.
      This is not the purpose with Israel. Israel is created as national home for Jewish people.

      The main differences is that America is a CONTINENT, while Israel is a tiny country, 60% of which is desert.
      It is perfectly reasonable that Jews should have the country of their own, just like It is reasonable for Navajos to have a reservation of their own, where they don’t want to see the palefaces. As it happens the Navajo nation has an area more than 3 times the size of Israel and I still support their right to discriminate against the palefaces.

      Arabs on the other hand have colonized are twice the size of the United States. They have plenty of space where they can live according to their own laws, religion, and “culture”. They already poses 22 failed states. There is no need to allow them to fail a the one on only Jewish state.

      Reply to Comment