Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t always hear about “administrative mistakes” made on his watch until after they are well on the way to causing bad publicity for the Jewish State.
The detention and questioning at the airport of veteran journalist Peter Beinart last weekend by over-enthusiastic security personnel is one good example.
Beinart, who came to Israel on Sunday to celebrate his niece’s Bat Mitzvah with his family, is a columnist for the Jewish Forward, Haaretz, and a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is interviewed by numerous other news outlets as well. Beinart is a Schwartz Senior Fellow at New America, and an Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science at the City University of New York, and he has been a Rhodes scholar. The list goes on on.
But the security goons decided to first separate him and bring him alone into a small interrogation room, where he said he was “detained and interrogated about my political activities at Ben Gurion Airport.” He was asked, he wrote, whether he was involved in any organization that could provoke violence in Israel, or that threatened Israeli democracy, and was told by his interrogator that he had participated during his previous trip to Israel in a protest, which he acknowledged was true. “He asked where it occurred and I answered ‘Hebron.’ He asked its purpose and I answered that we were protesting the fact that Palestinians in Hebron and across the West Bank lack basic rights.”
Upon reading the piece Beinart published in the Jewish Forward in which he told the story of being interrogated about his political activities in Israel, Netanyahu immediately set about issuing a statement to correct the police-state image created by the article.
The prime minister said he “immediately spoken with Israel’s security forces to inquire how this happened.”
According to Netanyahu’s office, he was told it was an “administrative mistake.”
Netanyahu said in his statement, “Israel is an open society which welcomes all – critics and supporters alike. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where people voice their opinions freely and robustly.”
For the most part, that is certainly true: witness the mob of tens of thousands who gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square last weekend waving Palestinian Authority flags and calling to “redeem Palestine” with blood and so forth. It doesn’t take much imagination to wonder where else in the world, save perhaps in Los Angeles, New York City or Washington DC, that one might be able to find a similar crowd and find them getting away with it — especially after that same flag has been coupled with gunfire, live grenades, rocket attacks and flames to burn down thousands of acres of land to boot.
All that having been said, there are still issues with Israel’s security apparatus at Ben Gurion Airport that could use a little fine-tuning.
A deeply respected colleague who prefers anonymity — and given the circumstances, I cannot disagree — has recounted the experience of visiting Israel at age 64, but having been questioned extensively because he could not remember the name of his childhood Hebrew school in Europe, nor explain satisfactorily why he wanted to visit Israel, other than to say that there were friends here that he wanted to see.
A normally reticent European dual national whose parents were Holocaust survivors, he simply did not appreciate being asked personal questions by strangers and thought it very rude. But that response led Israeli security personnel to place him on the “medium security risk” list. It took hours for them to allow him to leave the airport; by then, he’d decided he would never come back. The memory has never left him.
This scenario is repeated more often than anyone would prefer. Security screening is absolutely necessary and Israeli personnel perform this task better than anyone else in the world.
But that’s not to say that we cannot stand to improve ourselves.