22 thoughts on “Alvin Ailey Dancer Humiliated, Forced to Dance at Ben Gurion – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم
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  1. See also Jonathan Cook’s airport experiences, prompted by his crime of being married to a Christian Palestinian Israeli:
    (scroll down to “Racial Profiling”)

    Some time ago a Palestinian musician was forced by Israeli soldiers to play at a checkpoint in the West Bank. That episode elicited the same comparison with Nazis humiliating Jews in a ghetto, and (IIRC, no link at hand) was criticised even by Israel-friendly commentators. (Sometimes I fantasize about what tune I’d have played – David Edelstadt’s In Kamf perhaps, or Hirsh Glik’s Shtil, di Nakht ist oysgeshternt?)
    So now an apparently highly regarded American artist has been on the receiving end of Israeli hospitality, can we expect an outcry of the American press? Oh well, I’m not holding my breath.

  2. How revealing of you and your bias and agenda not to include this last quote by Jackson:

    It was really an embarrassing and unpleasant position to be in, but it has already happened to me in the past. When I returned to the United States after a trip to the Dominican Republic; security guards interrogated me similarly, and they also asked me to dance. Maybe I need to get used to dancing at airports.

    Oh I know, its because we’re not talking about the United States right now but about Israel.

  3. @amir: No, it’s because I can cite numerous other incidents which took place in precisely the same airport involving precisely the same security agent cohort, & precisely the same results. In fact, I’ve blogged about at least three that I can think of offhand. You’d like nothing more than to be able to say–“see, it happens everywhere. There are racists in the U.S. & we here in Israel are no different.”

    The truth is that such treatment is far more prevalent for Arabs at Ben Gurion than it is for Blacks at U.S. airports. Another difference is that in the U.S. incident, he was returning individually fr. a vacation when he entered the U.S. from the Dominican Republic. He was not returning to the U.S. with his entire dance troupe. Israeli security personnel were admitting his entire dance troupe. They knew precisely what he was and who he was & yet treated him like a puppet to be wound up to entertain them.

  4. @s: You’re ignoring the wretched history of abuse & humiliation attributed to the very same agents who humiliated Jackson. You’re also either ignoring (if you read it) or not aware of the fact that both the victim himself AND the Israeli tour promoter who met the dancers at the airport explicitly called the treatment “humiliation.” You’re also neglecting the fact that all the Alvin Ailey dancers came on the same flight. They didn’t come individually. Therefore, Israeli security knew what they were dealing with. They knew he was part of an international dance troupe. Yet they separated him from his colleagues and subjected him to demeaning treatment. And you can read the questions asked of him by these agents. They were nonsensical: what was you father’s name? Why did he give you a Muslim name?

    You’re also ignoring the fact that the Interior Minister explicitly said Israel was doing away with ethnic profiling of Arab travelers. If so, how do you explain this behavior?

    I’m frankly a little surprised given your level of experience with these issues why you’re so understanding of the treatment meted out to Jackson.

  5. Richard,
    This time I must say that I don’t agree with you. I don’t see why Israeli security personnel deserve such a bashing. They were acting well within the law, without violating the legal rights or the dignity of Abdur-Rahim Jackson.

    It is their right and prerogative to question – respectfully of course – people entering Israel. It is their right, and I should add, public duty, to verify stories that people tell them. You seem to think that they should blindly take people’s word for it. You know better than that! The security of any country, certainly a country in Israel’s situation, cannot rest on “taking people’s word for it.”

    Now, it’s an inconvenient but sad truth that Muslim-sounding names raise suspicions. And in the US, it is any Middle-Eastern name that raises suspicions, as can be attested by many Israelis who have been subjected to “secondary” questioning (and sometimes body frisking) at American airports. This is part of our post-9/11 world.

    You might say, “but this is racial profiling!” However, it is well-established in US law that 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure do not apply at border crossings. Moreover, airport security and CPB agents do not even need to prove “probable cause” to take you aside to “secondary questioning,” “body frisking” or “laptop searching and copying.” Kal vachomer (all the more so) that it’s no legal violation in Israel, which does not have a constitution protecting citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. (And in this case, we’re not even talking about Israeli citizens.)

    According to the account, they did not intentionally humiliate him or laugh at him. It was a matter of verification. That’s all. No physical violence, no shouting, no keeping him isolated in a room for ten hours. So where’s the meat?

    Are you angry at them for not recognizing that Abdur-Rahim Jackson is a famous American dancer? You can’t be serious.
    Are you angry at them for not simply taking his word for it? If anybody could enter Israel based on a story he tells at the border, that would spell serious trouble. I don’t have to remind you that there are terrorists, criminals, and other misfits who would be more than happy to take advantage of such a lax system.

    The only part that stinks in this story is the follow-up reaction, the denial, which does look bad. They should have issued a press release admitting the undeniable facts but presenting them in the proper way (as I did above). And maybe issue a clarification, something such as ‘Mr. Jackson was never treated as a suspect. It was standard procedure of verification, as is done in airports worldwide. But to the extent that he felt singled-out, we express our regret, and we issue him a warm welcome.” But I attribute their reaction to the mentality of Israelis to automatically deny anything that can be bad PR. It’s immature, yes, but they will eventually learn to tell the truth and explain what needs to be explained.

  6. Anyone who would claim that this is a matter of “security” is
    (a) naive
    (b) disingenuous or
    (c) of the ‘tin-foil hat to deflect the death rays’ variety

    As awful as this experience must have been for Mr. Jackson,
    for me, as a Jew, it raises horrible memories. Even though similar events have happened before at check-points, there is a part of me that says, ‘no this is impossible. Jews cannot be doing this.’

    Don’t the Israelis read history?! It goes to show what can be ‘justified’ in the name of ‘security’.

    All artists should boycott Israel.

  7. Richard – when did he say Israel was doing away with racial profiling? From what I understood he just said the procedures would be made more transparent and hopefully more palatable. I would be very surprised if he said he would do away with it altogether.
    I accompanied an Arab-American friend into Israel (I was coming back from India via Jordan) a month and a half ago. We had to wait four hours, which was very irritating. What pissed me off is that nobody came to update him, to explain to him the process might take longer. He understood that the decisions had to be made in an office somewhere in TA, but they could have been far more courteous. They did, however, bring water, although we were only able to get food because I was able to buy some.
    I think you’re mistaken, however, to label it callous or somehow inherent in the policy. The officials there understood there was a problem, much of which stems from the fact that each person entering the country can be questioned by two or three different agencies, who don’t always liase effectively with one another. For one reason or another, though, there’s a massive problem of accountability – nobody seems to be sure who the various officials are supposed to report to.

  8. Let’s hope other artists will join the artistic boycott and refuse to perform in Israel. It is hoped that Paul McCartney will show as much concern for Palestinians as he has shown for harp seals by refusinh to allow his name and his art to be used by Israel to further its propaganda that it is a democratic state which isn’t committed to crushing the people of Palestine.

  9. Considering the terrible things the Israeli army and Civil Administration (there is nothing civil about it) are doing to the Palestinians, I just don’t see how people can whine about some extra-questioning at the airport. For goodness sake, they let him in! And they did it with only an hour’s wait! I’ve had clients suffer from much worse treatment. I’ve represented civil rights activists who were branded “security threats” and endured month-long detention at BGU! Not to mention what Israeli-Palestinians or Palestinian residents have to endure – the humiliating strip-searches, the confiscation of laptops, hours of questionings causing missed flights and connections, loss of baggage, etc. etc.
    I read the story and my initial reaction was: How dare he make an issue of it? Does he know what Palestinians go through? He was treated with satin gloves!
    Let’s be honest and face the facts: Israel will never give up racial profiling, not in the next 50 years. And, as I analyzed in the previous post, they have a right to do so. Visiting Israel is not an entitlement but a privilege, and considering Israel’s legitimate security concerns, they are well within their rights under Israeli and international law (and natural law, if I may add) to question, verify, search, and corroborate, provided it’s done without physical abuse, without intentional infliction of emotional abuse, and not intended to prevent human rights monitors from doing their job.

  10. @Shamai: I agree with you that Mr. Jackson’s treatment wasn’t all that terrible, considering what others go through. I don’t think however that, in this particular case, that should be a consideration at all. Like Richard said, the Israelis had to know perfectly well who he was, not only because he happened to arrive in the group, but also because they had the passenger data of the flight well before it even took off in the US, like with every Israel-bound plane. Do Americans who visit Israel for business purpose need work visa? If so, they would’ve been through additional vetting. In any case it’s not like Mr. Jackson turned up on the doorstep completely out of the blue.

    The other point is that this, as you notice yourself, isn’t one isolated snafu that can happen everywhere, even though it shouldn’t. Much worse treatment is meted out to Palestinians/Muslims/Arabs, including Israeli citizens, who do have a right, not just a privilege, to enter and leave their country whenever they please. The difference is, despite the relatively mild inconvenience, this time it happened to an American, who might have a better chance to appear on the radar screen than any Palestinian un-people.

  11. @Alex Stein: I don’t know about you, but this statement APPEARS to indicate traveleres would be treated in the same way no matter their ethnicity:

    Diskin told her that the security establishment was scheduled to implement a new, high-cost technology that would screen all passengers in the same way.

    Last year, the Israel Airports Authority and the Citizens Accord Forum formed a joint task force to try to ease the distress of Arab passengers and to improve the services and methods used with Israeli Arabs at airports and border crossings

    Of course, nothing of the sort happened. Airport security personnel merely changed the way they processed travelers to make the discrimination slightly less visible to anyone but the Arab travelers themselves.

  12. @s: I’m frankly surprised that you wouldn’t understand that this blog is devoted to portraying all the injustices of the Occupation, whether they be meted out to Palestinians or black Americans with Arab names. I’m not in the business of measuring injustice & saying whose suffering is significant & whose isn’t. This is a political campaign and I will use whatever injustice I find to make my point about the Occupation. I will not differentiate bet. the suffering of an Arab American U.S. citizen, a black American citizen, and Israeli Arab citizen, or a Palestinian. They all are part of the education campaign that is necessary to end this thing. You should understand that for my audience, reading that a U.S. citizen is treated in a way similar to an Arab traveler makes a point sometimes more effectively than if I write about a Palestinian who suffers a far worse fate. We aren’t yet in a world in which it doesn’t matter what your origin or ethnicity in terms of the suffering you experience. That doesn’t mean I will ignore the suffering of the Palestinian (& I haven’t & you should know that). But it doesn’t mean that I won’t express my criticism of the suffering of those whose experiences you may feel pale in comparison.

  13. Richard,
    Let’s put this in context. While Abdur-Rahim Jackson and his troupe members will be entertaining Israelis in Tel Aviv with music and art (Oh what a lovely evening it’s going to be for all) and allowing Israelis to continue on regularly with their high-society life, Israeli gun boats are on a rampage in the coastal waters of Gaza, ramming fishermen’s boats, and wreaking havoc and destruction on innocent people barely making a living.
    For More Information, Please Contact:
    (Gaza) Donna Wallach, +972 59 883 6420 / cats4jazz at gmail dot com

    (GAZA COASTAL WATERS) 10th September 2008 – An Israeli military gunboat rammed an unarmed Palestinian fishing vessel today at high speeds. The gunboat smashed through the upper hull of the fishing boat, careened over
    the top, and landed on the other side.
    Extensive damage was caused by the impact to the fishing boat. The hull was badly damaged, and virtually the entire deck area, all the equipment on it, and the canopy above the deck were severely damaged. Unusually, all
    of the crew happened to be in the cabin or at the fore at the time. Had they been on deck they would have had little chance of survival. Via a megaphone, the Israeli military aboard the gunboat then made the threat that: “When the internationals leave Gaza, you will all be made to pay.”

    Has Abdur Rahim Jackson raised his voice against this criminal behavior? Has any member of his troupe called Israel out on these terror acts? No, they are silent, and by remaining silent – they are complicit. Before we raise a riot for them on a very minor inconvenience (which, as I commented, is basically justified), I’d like to see them step out of their selfish cocoon and make at least one critical comment on the crimes of occupation. We all know that when famous artists speak out – it amplifies the message a thousandfold (e.g. Daniel Barenboim). But no, these artists, including Abdur-Rahim, are here to make money, and the hell with everything else. They did not even bother to take their tour to the Palestinian territories. And they want us to feel sorry for them? If they want liberals’ respect, they gotta earn it. And they will not earn my respect by staying silent and “keeping it safe.”

  14. @s: I find it hard to believe yr position, Shamai. Abdur-Rahim is a dancer, not a political activist. He has spent his entire life dancing, not reading the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict as you & I have. I wouldn’t even expect him to know where Israel is on a map (the vast number of Americans don’t). Why should he or would he? Your anger, while justified, is misplaced.

    I could see if Jackson was an activist like Mikis Theodorakis, Edward Said or Daniel Barenboim. At least you know that they have thought deeply about these matters. But why would you expect a ballet dancer to know about what’s happening in Jenin or Nablus or wherever??

    As for performing in the Territories, do you know anything about producing tours (as I do)? Do you understand how complex the logistics are? The financing? And do you think it would be a simple thing for a large dance company to tour Israel & then follow this by touring the Territories? And where would the financing come from for the Palestinian portion of the trip?

    Certainly, it would be a great thing to perform for Palestinian audiences. But performing arts groups are not charities. THey need to break even in an environment that is increasingly hostile to the arts. They can’t just say: “We’re going to Ramallah because it’s the right thing to do.” Would that it were so. But it isn’t. They have to live to dance another day & I’m certain coordinating two separate tours as you’re suggesting would be virtually impossible given the financial, logistical, political & security barriers that must be surmounted.

    But if you’re really serious about this why don’t you write to the Alvin Ailey Company & suggest that they tour the Territories or send someone there to teach a class, or whatever?

  15. Richard – the reference to ‘high cost technology’ explains why the changes haven’t been made. Presumably whatever this high-cost technology isn’t ready yet, but I doubt all that investment would be made for the project to simply be abandoned.

  16. There are two separate issues here, Richard. I only brought up the issue of artists speaking out (or keeping silent) because I think that it’s important for artists to speak about the human rights record of the country they are visiting. Just as I hoped that Olympic athletes would have spoken out on China’s dismal human rights record (unfortunately they did not rise to the occasion, though I am proud of Bob Costas who brought that issue up in every interview he conducted, despite all the pressure to just shup up and be a sportscaster).

    Now to the main issue here. This event highlights the delicate job of Israeli security personnel at border crossings, who must balance legitimate security needs of a sovereign country and the individual rights of foreigners who wish to enter that country.

    As a lawyer who litigated cases and, several times, successfully overturned the Israeli security establishment (a.k.a. Shin Bet) decision to deny entrance to peaceful human rights workers or pro-Palestinian journalists, I am knowledgable of the relevant Israeli law and policies. (I also successfully sued the Ben Gurion Airport authorities on behalf of an Israeli leftwing activist who was abused by Israeli security personnel at a foreign airport.) While Israeli courts are willing to assume judicial oversight over the question of denial of entrance (though employing the questionable “secret evidence” method), they have never agreed to intervene regarding the particular kind of questioning or verification procedures that the security services employ at airports.

    Currently, there is petition before the High Court of Justice, filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, attacking the “racial profiling” employed by Israeli security authorities. This petition has been going on for almost two years, and there is no sign it will be resolved in the near future. The State Attorney, in its response, has argued that security needs dictate its policies, and that the exact nature of these policies is secret. They have agreed to show the judges their policies in camera (again, the “secret evidence” methodology). But, let’s remember, this petition argues only on behalf of Israeli Arabs or Palestinian residents, who are claiming that their civil rights are abused by “racial profiling.” Even this petiion (which will probably be denied) does not contend that foreigners have a right not to be racially profiled. And the argument is simple: You don’t like being singled out, or the kind of questions you’re asked, or the verification process you undergo – you don’t have to visit Israel. No one is forcing you to enter the country.

    Having said that, Israeli authorities are not stupid. They realize the potential PR mess that abusive questioning can cause. After several publicized incidents, they have redrafted their policies, and as a general rule, they don’t allow abusive practices. In this case, the singling-out of Abdur-Rahim Jackson provides no issue at all. They had a perfectly legitimate right to do that, and US authorities do it all the time. The only questionable issue is how they chose to verify his claim that he is a professional dancer on a visit to perform in Israel. They probably could have done it in more appropriate ways than asking him to show a few dancing moves. But that would mean several hours, at least, waiting in that isolation room (making phone calls, checking with Israelis who invited them, etc.) Just because someone’s name appears on a dance company brochure doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. And coming with a group doesn’t prove conclusively that the person is really part of the group. If that were the case, terrorists would have a picnic: all they would need is a nice, fancy brochure from a local printshop, or to blend in with a group of musicians, members of a sports team, etc.

    To summarize, I find no fault in Israeli security personnel wanting to verify his claims, although I do agree they could have found more respectable ways to corroborate his claims (which would probably have taken many more hours).

  17. @s:

    I value all the important information you’ve conveyed about Israeli security procedures and the lawsuit you’ve described.

    But again, you’ve missed some key elements of this incident: Jackson was a member of a large dance troupe entering Israel at Ben Gurion. The security personnel had the names of every member of the traveling group in the passenger manifest along with documentation from the Alvin Ailey Company itself of who was in their group. Agents could check off the names against the passports the travelers carry.

    that would mean several hours, at least, waiting in that isolation room (making phone calls, checking with Israelis who invited them

    The Israeli concert producer was there in person at the airport and is quoted in one of the linked articles above as confirming the humilitation Jackson suffered. The producer witnessed it himself & tried to extricate Jackson as best he could. He too could’ve authenticated Jackson’s identity if the agent’s had trusted him. So you’re dead wrong in claiming they would’ve had to isolate Jackson for hours in order to verify his claim to be who he is.

    I’m not claiming there aren’t legitimate security concerns at Ben Gurion. I AM claiming there are humane ways of implementing security procedures while still performing the job at hand, and Israeli security agents are woefully inadequate in that regard.

  18. Hmmm I wonder what drives this Israeli response to real threats they face daily….Could it be that ambulances are used to shuttle fighters and weapons inside, or maybe that terrorist have used Western spouses as a means to gain access to Israeli airplanes, or maybe it is that fighters use Mosques and hospitals as a base to launch attacks from. So maybe before casting the attention on israel the question should be asked of the enemies of israel why they chose to hold the civilians of ALL nations Arab and Jews alike hostage by their gross tactics. When a photographer gets checked by the U.S. secret service they are asked to take a few pictures with the camera to demonstrate that it is not an explosive, how is this different from asking one to play a violin. When I arrived in Israel on one trip and spoke a few broken sentances of Hebrew it raised the suspicion of security personnel. Why? Because it would be a tactic that a terrorist would use in an attempt to blend into the population. So before chastising israel for their RESPONSES to threats that surround them daily maybe a long hard look should be taken at what threats have driven them to these responses.

  19. @Todd: Yada-Yada-Yada. We’ve heard it all before. I guess what you’re trying to say is that this thin, almost frail American dancer was clearly a terror threat just like an ambulance concealing armed militants. What was he bringing into Israel, a dirty bomb in his ballet shoes?

    C’mon. Even security requires proportionality & common sense. You react to ea. situation as context demands. Clearly, this situation posed no security threat whatsoever. To treat Jackson as if he might be a Hamas bomber was ludicrous just because of a Muslim name. Only the militant pro-Israel crowd can’t acknowledge this because Israel never makes a mistake.

  20. while i understand most of both sides of the argument presented in the comments, what bothers me about the story is how it was brushed aside by the media. only one news source reported it in their evening coverage, which is how i learned about the incident. and even then, i saw nothing in headlines nor other sources. the u.s. has a tenuous relationship with the rest of the world partly because of unflappable support of israel. our support isn’t a bad thing, but we would be naive and just stupid to believe that bad things don’t happen in israel, that there is, on occasion, injustice, and not all israelis are perfect people. the fact that this man was stopped at the airport and asked to perform to prove his identity is in itself an humiliation, and when you put that into perspective of the african american historical experience, yes, it is a racist act. generations of black americans can speak of similar verification “acts” performed for jeering, mocking white persons in positions of power by virtue of the fact that they were of the majority class. so maybe some arabs and/or muslims feel this too, when dealing with israel. i don’t know. i will say, before getting off topic, that in the u.s. world view, israel can do no wrong and we don’t acknowledge when israel does. unfortunately that sends a message that ignites anti-israel sentiment because it ignores actions that remind us that israel is made up of humans, who are fallable, make mistakes and lapses in judgements, who have their own built-in prejudices, who sometimes do adopt an us vs them mentality, as do we all.

  21. PS. the fact that i had to do an internet search and this one article from an obscure, blog website is what came up as the first hit should tell you something about how the national and international press handled the affair.

  22. @once a dancer: I agree with you wholeheartedly. But we don’t like to think of ourselves as an “obscure blog website.” THough fr. yr perspective I can see that this would be the case since you’re not involved day to day with the issues I write about. Anyway, I’m glad you DID discover this site & hope you will tell fellow dancers & others you know about this specific story & the general issue.

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