Israeli media is reporting that former Clinton administration Secretary of Health and Human Services and University of Miami President Donna Shalala was “humilitated” at Ben Gurion International Airport. What makes matters a bit more complicated for Israel is that she was there to help protest the “academic boycott” of Israel.
Secretary Shalala was held for some two and a half hours in her view because she had a Lebanese last name, was not apparently reported in a VIP registration system, and had no “handlers” from Israeli organizations assisting her.
Deputy Foreign Minister and former Israel Ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon has “agreed that a new protocol will be drafted that will keep incidents to a minimum.”
But this should not be just about VIP treatment in Israel. This kind of incident occurs in the United States frequently as well as Israel, and probably in other countries. Stories abound not just about time delays but about the gruff treatment that US customs officials handle those they hold back.
I wrote some time ago about the US Customs treatment of German Green Party Chairman Cem Oezdemir at Dulles Airport — and when traveling through much of the Middle East, I constantly hear about VIPs and just regular folks who succeeded in getting visas nonetheless being subjected to equivalent forms of “humiliation” as Shalala apparently received while in Israel.
When I have been in Israel on my own and not under official sponsorship, I too have been subjected to pretty serious scrutiny. I once answered a question honestly that added an hour or so to my time. The young lady security screener asked (as I was departing Israel), “what place of worship do you belong to? a church in your community?” I responded, “I don’t do religion.” Red flag.
That said, I was treated with great respect by the Israeli screeners who frequently apologized for how long the search of my bags and perhaps my past were taking. But they were the epitome of politeness — and I got through.
I went to St. John’s Episcopal right across from the White House after this trip — just so I could claim it next time in Israel — but there is a deeper problem about the treatment of folks at borders, particularly the American border that I hope those angered by the Shalala case think about.
While many may be justifiably irritated by ethnic profiling and screening at Israel’s airport, the spotlight should equally be held on US airports.
— Steve Clemons