“I think profiling is something that we’re going to have to start thinking about as a country,” GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump told CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, using Israel as an example for a place where this method is flourishing and yielding results. “You look at Israel and you look at others, and they do it and they do it successfully. And you know, I hate the concept of profiling, but we have to start using common sense,” he said.
Sadly, as Israel is being drawn with increasing frequency into the US presidential elections, with the Democrats using the Israeli-Arab conflict as a battle field between the Sanders and Clinton proxies, bits of prejudice and misinformation about the life and politics of the Jewish State are coming to the fore and, more often than not, spreading more ignorance than knowledge about it.
Donald Trump’s cartoon depiction of Israel’s security forces’ strategies is a case in point. A few years ago, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was elected on a promise to do away with police racial profiling, because it perpetuated decades of abuse when African-Americans and Latinos would be routinely stopped and frisked by police. But predictive profiling, which takes into account multiple elements in an individual’s manner and appearance, is a crucial component of law enforcement work, and it’s much more complex than just skin color and religion.
Not according to the BBC, which informed its listeners on Sunday: “Profiling uses ethnicity, race and religion to determine whether a person has or is likely to commit crimes.”
And, sadly, this is probably what Trump meant when he shared with Face the Nation what he had taken from Israel’s security strategies. In a sense, Trump’s and the BBC’s notions of profiling come down to the store detective who spots a black person coming in and sticks to them expecting that they are more likely than others to shoplift.
If Israel’s security forces had used this yardstick in their approach to predictive profiling it would have choked not just its international airports, but traffic on the streets in many cities, too. If all you need to be in order to trigger security response is dark-skinned or Muslim, three-quarters of Israelis would spend their days and nights in police stations.
Chris Weller, who last year reported in Business Insider about his experience as a foreign, non-Jewish traveler at Ben Gurion airport, noted that “no flight leaving Ben Gurion has ever been hijacked, and the airline servicing Israel, El Al, hasn’t seen an attack in more than 30 years.” And yet, dozens of El Al and other flights leave Ben Gurion every day, and passenger traffic is brisk and efficient.
Israel employs, on the streets of its cities as well as in its airports, an intelligence driven system that relies on good communication, alert operatives, and multi-layered screening. Daniel Wagner, co-author of the book “Global Risk Agility and Decision Making,” cites Raphael Ron, a former director of security at Ben Gurion for 5 years, who said the passenger-oriented security system there is focused on the “human factor,” and is “based on the assumption that terrorist attacks are carried out by people who can be found and have been stopped through the use of this simple but effective security methodology.”
Unlike all US airports, departing passengers in Ben Gurion are not asked to take off their shoes during physical screening processes. Instead, passengers are interviewed by trained agents before they get to the check-in counter. So that the area in front of the check-in is not conceded to potential terrorists, as was the case recently in the Brussels airport attack. The interviews last one or two minutes for the most part, so that the line of passengers is moving quickly, and when the agents (they work in pairs) do suspect someone, based on factors such as vocabulary, general behavior, dress, age, race, religion and destination—they may be detained and questioned for as long as it takes.
But the scrutiny at Ben Gurion begins well ahead of the passenger’s arrival at the terminal itself. Every vehicle first passes through a security checkpoint where armed agents examine it, have a brief exchange with the driver, and assess their risk level. Meanwhile, the vehicle is gauged by a weight sensor, and an undercarriage scan. Then, outside and inside the terminal building agents are always mingling with the crowd pouring in, aided by hidden surveillance cameras that are monitored around the clock. Suspicious people would be challenged without waiting for them to reach a counter or a metal detector. An agent would approach them and strike a conversation to assess their mental state and risk level.
All of that well coordinated system relies on a broader intelligence infrastructure that uses informants, social network scrutiny and surveillance — traditional police methods which Israel’s security forces have been using and improving over the past decade and a half both in green line Israel and in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
Chris Weller offered an excellent example for the way Israel combines computer technology with the human factor, to create a smooth, reliable, fast and effective communication system regarding predictive profiling. “I learned that before any passenger ever gives up his luggage to the fine folks at Ben Gurion International, an employee places a neon yellow sticker on the back of your passport. On it is a 10-digit number. The first number, ranging from one to six, indicates your perceived threat level to whomever else you’re passed along. I got a five.”
And so, with a simple bar-coded sticker, the first agent who meets the passenger communicates his impressions to the next agent down the line without having to exchange one word or even a gesture. Leftwing writer Lia Tarachansky complained a few years ago about the same system:
“So I enter the line … My Israeli-Palestinian roommate tells me he’ll wait while I answer the security lady’s questions. She sees I speak Hebrew, she asks if I packed my own bags and she gives me a ‘1’ as expected. I’m white and I’m an Israeli, therefore I’m probably a Zionist. High from excitement and privilege I ask if my friend can come with me to the check-in. She says of course and asks for his ID. Her face changes.
“Where it says the Jewish birth date the line in his ID is blank. i.e. not Jewish. i.e. Palestinian.
– you know this man?
– he’s my roommate
– wait here.
“She looks at his last name. It’s Christian, i.e. Arab. She disappears with our passports. The roommate looks at me and we both know what’s going to happen. When she comes back her smile is gone. She tears the ‘1’ off my bags and angrily puts on a ‘3’ as though to say ‘you didn’t tell me you have an Arab friend!’ Her face says ‘don’t you see you’re [expletive] it all up for us?!’”
Tarachansky described in her vivid style just how unhappy she was with the Israeli security system, but the fact is that even in her anti-Israeli narrative one can see that no one was hurt in the encounter she described, no one was manhandled, no one even missed their flight. But the system quickly spotted and responded to the potential threat, and the response was to replace a passport sticker. This hostile depiction of the Israeli method is, in fact, a song of praise to a rational, sophisticated and effective security system.
One wonders whether Donald Trump, or the media, understand the full depth of this system when he describes Israel’s success in police work and security as “profiling.”