The Alvin Ailey dance company is one of the leading troupes in the United States and the world over. Abdur-Rahim Jackson is one of the company’s senior dancers but that detail didn’t seem to faze Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport security. They noticed Jackson’s Muslim first name and that became reason enough to turn him into a suspect.
Jackson, 31, arrived in Israel on Sunday night with the rest of the Alvin Ailey dancers towards a performance they are launching on Tuesday night at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center.
“We passed the security check and then I was approached and asked to step aside,” Jackson recalled…When security arrived they mostly took interest in Jackson’s first name, Abudur-Rahim. “I explained to them that my father converted to Islam and gave me this name,” he said. “They repeatedly asked me what my father’s name is, what my mother’s name is and why they gave me this name.”
In an attempt to prove to the security guards that he is a professional dancer who arrived in Israel to perform, he presented them with a company brochure in which he is photographed in various performances, but to no avail. “They saw the pictures and then one of them asked me to dance for him, Jackson said recalling the humiliation. “I was embarrassed but I was afraid to do something wrong that may cause me to look suspicious. I demonstrated a few dance moves and after another clarification of the details, they released me and allowed me to join the rest of the troupe.”
Jackson, who arrived in Israel for the first time, was detained for an hour. “It was really an embarrassing and unpleasant position to be in…”
The Israel Airports Authority said in response, “the details of the incident are unknown to us and no corroboration was found in the investigation we conducted.”
The AP version of the story notes an even more embarrassing aspect:
…Waiting for him in the group was Jackson’s fiancee and fellow Alvin Ailey dancer Olivia Bowman, who has a Jewish mother with family in Israel.
I’ve unfortunately had to write a number of such posts about Israeli Arabs and even Arab Americans being detained at Ben Gurion for no reason other than that their ethnicity. But this incident stands out because of the humiliation involved.
Anyone who is familiar with Holocaust archival photographs remembers images of Nazis forcing Jews to dance in the ghetto as they laugh derisively. Perhaps it doesn’t rise to the same level of humiliation. But that’s only because Israeli personnel knew this was an American citizen. You can be certain that if this had been an Israeli Arab dancer the treatment would’ve been much worse.
Recently, the international press reported that an Israeli soldier forced a Palestinian musician to play his violin for him to prove that the instrument was not a security threat. This is the type of average everyday humiliation that an army of Occupation inflicts both on itself and its victims. Par for the course unfortunately.
As a result of several earlier embarrassing episodes, Israel’s security minister exclaimed to much public fanfare several months ago that ethnic profiling at the airport would be done away with. You can see how credible that claim was.
What I especially object to is the Israeli smugness in implementing their security procedures. The attitude of airport personnel is you’re here at our pleasure. If we say “Dance:” you dance. If we say “whistle Dixie,” by God that’s what you better do. Only in Israel would intelligence agents suspect that a senior dancer of one of America’s greatest black dance troupes might be an Arab terrorist AND make him dance to prove his innocence.
You’ll also note the insulting response from the airport authority essentially denying the incident happened because they allegedly had no record of it. No doubt tomorrow, some contrite foreign ministry flack will, if Rahim-Jackson is lucky, apologize for the inconvenience and claim that this isn’t the way Israel wants to treat foreign visitors. That’s if he’s lucky. If he isn’t, no one will say anything, displaying Israel’s obtuseness in dealing with such matters.
Perhaps if the foreign minstry realizes that artistic ensembles will hesitate to come to Israel and perform given such shabby behavior, then they might take notice. But clearly, given past false claims, the behavior likely will not change. Apparently, in Israel much is swept under the rug in the name of national security.
Thanks to reader Ellen for pointing me to this story.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.