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Flying while Jewish

Noted Author Reading The Jewish Press Detained at JFK

Had the situation been reversed, had a Muslim woman been stopped and her luggage searched simply because she was reading Islamic materials, it would be front page news and the subject of civil rights rallies.

Phyllis Chesler

Photo Credit: Joan L. Roth (on Facebook)

Perhaps it is a coincidence that it happened to be The Jewish Press that caught the attention of security officials at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 5, but that fact certainly caught the attention of The Jewish Press reporters.

Phyllis Chesler, one of the doyennes of the feminist movement, professor emerita of psychology and women’s studies at CUNY, ardent Zionist, and author, most recently of An American Bride in Kabul, which won the National Jewish Book Award for memoir this year, was traveling from New York to Florida Wednesday afternoon.

Chesler’s flight was delayed due to the ice storm. Still, she felt somewhat lucky, as most of the flights were cancelled.

As she waited, Chesler pulled out the latest edition of The Jewish Press, which she had with her.

Chesler noticed that as soon as she took out the paper, one of the security agents looked at her sharply. He came over and asked to see her newspaper. After looking at the cover, the agent then took The Jewish Press and brought it over to another security agent. The two agents then had a discussion, apparently about the newspaper and about Chesler. She was then told to open her luggage, which the agents proceeded to search.

While Chesler’s luggage was being rifled through and she was being interrogated, she noticed another woman stride unmolested past her and the security agents, and disappear on through to her destination.

The woman who sailed through without being stopped was dressed in a niqab. The niqab is an Islamic head covering which covers a woman’s entire face except for the eyes.

niqab.jpg Chesler recounted that she saw no one in security ask this other woman – whose face was impossible to see – to lift her veil so that they might check her facial features against her identifying documents. The unidentifiable woman went right past security, no questions asked.

Chesler’s interrogation ended after the security agents found nothing more dangerous than a water bottle.

The episode was relatively brief, but it reveals a great deal about who security agents at JFK airport think is dangerous and from what they are protecting Americans.

The issue is not that the Jew was the one who was stopped and the Muslim was the one who sailed through security.

The issue is that merely the word Jewish on a newspaper was sufficient to draw the agents’ attention and suspicion, while someone whose identity was impossible to discern, who could be hiding who knows what, was ignored by security – security! professionals.

Had the situation been reversed, there is little question that the Committee on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), would be up in arms. So would the American Civil Liberties Union and probably half a dozen Jewish organizations. But in this real life situation, a Jewish woman was stopped as a potential security threat in an airport in New York because she was reading a Jewish newspaper.

Will anyone be up in arms?


About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.

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106 Responses to “Noted Author Reading The Jewish Press Detained at JFK”

  1. Beth Wright says:

    Lol, some people are just dummies. She is no political threat…

  2. Things are getting way out of hand….klkc

  3. Everyone traveling needs to have a copy of the Jewish Press. Drive the TSA crazy. Has this article been sent to all the major Jewish organizations? The JP, or someone, should send it as a press release demanding Jewish organizations respond. There must be push back for this. We are too quiet.

  4. David Brown says:

    Let the outcry begin with me! It is the people who hide their identity behind supposed religious garb that should be interrogated.

  5. The TSA has some screwballs working for them.

  6. H Fragman Abramson says:

    1938 Redux? Where is the overpaid Abe Foxman or the other leaders of Jewish orgs paid to speak on our behalf?

  7. She supports women of the wall Hashem is sending the wait up calls to those who need it.

  8. Jo Torres says:

    What kind of training do they get anyway? How would she possibly be considered a threat? Where did common sense go? Good grief.

  9. @Avroham: Interesting theory. She also supports Israel, the right of Jews to build and live in Yesha, and the right of Jews to daven on Har HaBayit. Maybe Allah is punishing her.

  10. Doris Jaffe says:

    One TSA agent asked me if my husband "is an engineer or something" as he quizzically opened up my husband's Gemorrah and scanned each page. He wasn't sure which way to hold the book. I knew the agent was embarrassed about not recognizing the Hebrew language. What was most unnerving was another TSA agent or Marine held a long rifle facing us. The incident occurred shortly after the tragedy of Sept. 11th.

  11. Phyllis must have kept her cool if this was a short incident. Me! I would have exploded and most likely been arrested. JFK is the worst. I refuse to fly through there on the rare times I return to the US from Israel. I give every TSA agent a piece of my mind if they even look at me funny. They might roll their eyes at me, but I am not remaining quiet to this insanity.

  12. Chris Taylor says:

    War is not far away folks. I expect to see obummer hanging upside down from a lamppost in DC.

  13. The Jewish America Community had better wake up and see that Obama is NOT your friend.

  14. This is absolutely outrageous! If I hear another person deny history is repeating itself I'm going to scream!

  15. John Kinory says:

    I do hope she takes action against them for discrimination. And then have them dismissed for falling down on the job.

  16. John Kinory says:

    A Zionist professor at CUNY? She must feel very lonely there.

  17. and now it starts-Jews being singled out, what next yellow star’s of David? And if you ask the TSA, they’ll tell you that they are just following orders-sound familiar

  18. Jerry Gordon says:

    Outrageous! Such irony for someone who has experienced being segregated as a women in an Afghan seraglio as a young American bride of the scion of a wealthy Afghan family and later fought against Ilslam denigrating women's rights including putting them in a virtual isolation chamber such as the Niqab. The incident should basis for filing a complaint with the TSA and get the two security screeners reprimanded. Now we know how deep the DHS has been penetrated by anti-Semites and philo- Islamics. But then who does DHS have as both Assistant Secretary of Policy and a member of their Advisory Council, Arif Alikhan and Mohammed Elibiary. Q.E.D

  19. The woman in the niquab could very well have been carrying explosives.

  20. here we go- hang on to your talisim!!

  21. unbelievable and disgusting

  22. Carole Rubin says:

    Definitely outrageous, Jerry!!!!

  23. Ruth Dodziuk-Justitz says:

    I certainly will travel with a copy of the Jewish Press in future.

  24. Time to head home people xx

  25. Gil Gilman says:

    Locally the TSA is known as the Terrorist Scissors Assistants. This was told to me by one of their employees. The U. S. Diplomatic policy is seen in this microcosm. In addition, the brightest bulbs on the planet do not illuminate their thinking apparatus.

  26. JB Cat says:

    I've read JP many times in airports … in Charlotte, Atlanta, and Europe, and nobody has bothered me. Must be one of those New York things. JP endorsed the marxist De Blasio for mayor, and it looks like your chickens are starting to come home to roost. (I won't be reading JP anywhere but online now because I did not renew my subscription to the print version after that foolhardy endorsement.)

  27. Terry Beals says:

    We have to face reality here. Only Jews and Christians are the enemy of this world today. Anything is acceptable except Truth and those who embrace it.

  28. Sara you are absolutely right! Especially your sentence: 'We are too quiet'. This is at the very knub of our problem. Too afraid to put our heads above the parapet; fear of what, anti-Semitism??? Well, we have it anyway, thinly veiled as anti-Israel/Zionism. So we might as well shout and maybe be heard. I am in the U.K. but I will send the article to as many people as I can. Let's get real and face reality.

  29. Arno Nazeres says:

    If she was reading a copy of Jihad life they would have kissed her ass .

  30. Just don't carry a copy of TSA Watch.

  31. That's something many of us, especially non-Jews, don't understand. Many of us treat anti-Semitism as if it's no big deal. It only affects Jews, right? Well, in this case, a couple low-level security agents could have cost hundreds if not thousands of people their lives because of their own racist views. There is no such thing as benign racism and this is just a small example of how ignoring anti-Semitism threatens everybody, not just Jewish people. There is no such thing as a harmless racist.

  32. there is a dangerous lunatic in the white house. that is the issue. there are no other issues.

  33. there is a dangerous lunatic in the white house. that is the issue. there are no other issues.

  34. Anti Semitic criminal actions intoduced and supported by the muslim brotherhood imposter in the WH!

  35. Bobby Harris says:

    i think the TSA at JFK and Newark Liberty airport are now trying to listen to lies from Islamic people flying out of airports saying that person is a terrorist or a threat who is jewish is a lie a very big LIE.. that woman who had a naqib cover on face is against security regulations in airports I don't care where it is. they were protecting her and I suspect may be a suicide bomber or a terrorist going on a place to its destination. its time for americans to say stop this is America period

  36. Ilana Rosansky says:

    I'm shocked & aghast and wonder what kind of trainong these airport personnel are receiving AND what kind of intelligence (iq) screening they've indergone

  37. Ilana Rosansky says:

    I'm shocked & aghast and wonder what kind of trainong these airport personnel are receiving AND what kind of intelligence (iq) screening they've indergone

  38. This story is striking because the TSA people could only have been responding to Ms. Chesler's publicly revealed ideology and religion. And their ignorance of a clear security risk is just as striking. All of these comments speak about a woman in a Niqab, but we don't know if it was a woman at all. The only thing we can be sure of is that it was a human being. (Roughly).
    On the other hand, the degree of ignorance among TSA officers is just as surprising. Years ago I was traveling and had my teffilin in one of those hard round cases that IDF soldiers use to carry their teffilin. Not surprisingly it attracted the attention of the guy operating the x-ray machine, and he asked me to open it, which of course I did. I took the teffilin out and explained that I used them when I prayed in the morning. Oh yes, he said, you face Mecca when you do that. I said no, wrong team, those are our cousins. My team faces Jerusalem.
    He was friendly and pleasant and I think a little happier that he was dealing with the Jerusalem team and not the Mecca team. I was a little worried he was going to try to make me open up the teffilin themselves, but he didn't, and then sent me on my way. I don't travel with that kind of case any more.

  39. The only thing more alarming about the rising open hostility to Jews is the denial by educated, sophisticated people around the world, especially in the US, that it is happening… especially as it has already happened once and was brought to a horrific conclusion that shocked the world. In the US, American Indians STILL can't get Americans to face and accept the real truth and horror of what really happened to us, and continued to happen to the children, up to the 1980's in the boarding schools. We all have to keep fighting anti-Semitism as strongly as possible…. put it back in the faces of those who don't want to acknowledge it exists.

  40. Edward Lobel says:

    I have know doubt that ignorant TSA agents put Phyliss Chesler through a search because of the Jewish Press she was reading. However, I find it difficult to believe another woman wearing a niqab "sailed through" without being checked. I have extensively traveled throughout the world and even in Arab countries any women wearing a niqab was checked and had to raise her covering to make sure she was who she was supposed to be.

    There have been cases throughout the United States where women wearing niqab were required to have pictures taken for drivers licenses and passports and it has been legally ruled on they must comply. If Phyliss Chesler or anyone else saw the women wearing the niqab sail right through they should have said something. I certainly would not have boarded a flight that the woman was on until she was checked!

  41. Shari Goodman says:

    Those of us in the Counter Jihad movement are not surprised. This administration has shredded any reference to Islamic terrorism in all of their training manuels at the FBI, CIA, military, and local law enforcement. That is why the Ft. Hood shooting was described as "workplace violence:. The new enemy for this administration are Jews, Christians, and Conservatives. We now have a target on our back.

  42. Ronny Mol says:

    Dear Professor Chesler, what do you think is the most important issue of a Jewish woman? The answer is MODESTY. Why? Because if you are not, men look at you and you have to pay in heaven for each look times 70 years.

  43. If a Muslim wanted to bring something deadly onto an airplane would he be more likely to succeed carrying a Koran and wearing a keffiyeh or wearing a kipa and carrying the Jewish Press? The security agents obviously understand this. I am not sure if I am serious or not. I think not, but who knows?

  44. TSA dont hire anybody with brains. Only people who cant work i n any other place.
    And yes, we should do something . We were to quet in 1939 and we paid for it with 6 million of our people lives.

  45. It is very interesting how this paper wants to say about jewish and muslims.

  46. Anthony Kent says:

    It may actually be the green eye shadow and red lipstick and NOT the Jewish press that attracted attention. Paranoia, the destroyer.

  47. You say you have "know" [NO] doubt and mention "ignorance" in your comment? Come on, don't talk about someone else's ignorance when you obviously can't get past your own ignorance.

  48. Roger Gove says:

    I think a letter to my Congressperson might be in order? I ask others to follow suit.

  49. Timothy Ryan says:

    Don't feel too bad – - I know just how you do feel though.

    I am a Christian that reads the Jewish Press here in Florida and I also read the Jerusalem Post in Ivreet. … I do this at my local McDonalds lunchtime as I want to learn Ivreet so I can come visit Israel soon. … I have had local JEWISH people report me to the police and have been questioned about my 'weird habit.' – - Other people here just see a foreign alphabet and assume I am a Muslim terrorist

  50. Timothy Ryan says:

    I love Sylvia Schapira's comment – - right on the mark!

    Jews get pushed around because they let people do it to them and they try to 'hide' from the hatred by keeping a low-profile.

    If I were a Jew I would wear a bright yellow star of David. … And carry a fully loaded AK-47 (or perhaps an Uzi would be better)? . . . Take my Chai? Over my dead body!

    Stand UP and be proud that you are Gods Chosen people – - Amen!

  51. TSA Watch is your fellow blog.spotter. I'm sure NSA has told TSA.

  52. I can't find any TSA policy that would require unveiling a person in niqab to make sure he/she is who he/she claims to be. Maybe I'll try it next time and see if it's less humiliating to go through security.

  53. Edward Lobel says:

    Kennon Breeding if that's all you got, you are one of those ignorant idiots!

  54. by the wqy ,can you id the two officials?

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