Why can’t the U.S. be more like Israel?
I’d like to do a forensic search to root out the origin of the latest media meme that, given the mess that TSA appears to be making of the new full body airport security screenings, we should turn to Israel as a model for how to do the job. Chances are that we’ll discover that the meme was created by someone in the MFA or by an Israeli security consultant who stands to make millions if TSA takes the idea seriously enough to hire him.
Amid the uproar that airport screening has become too intrusive, some Americans are now asking why the United States cannot do it like the Israelis.
Representative John L. Mica, Republican of Florida and a critic of the Obama administration’s new screening methods, says the Transportation Security Administration should look at Israel, which uses early detection techniques at airports. An editorial in The Washington Times last week praised El Al, the Israeli national airline, as employing the “smarter approach” of using “sophisticated intelligence analysis which allows them to predict which travelers constitute a possible threat and which do not.”
As it turns out, the security methods employed by Israel’s famous [!] Shin Bet security service at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv are frequently stricter and more intrusive than the full-body scanners and pat-downs American officials put into place Nov. 1
Before we drive a stake right through the heart of this stupid idea let’s understand what it entails. The idea is that the philosophy of U.S. security is to find weapons or bombs before they get on the plane. Israel’s system, or so goes the claim, is keyed to identify terrorists, not find their weapons.
There is a wee small problem with the characterization of Israel’s system. It’s a sack of bull. The claim is that the Israeli system is based on a complex set of psychological criteria, questioning and variables administered by a highly trained and skilled set of professional security experts who will suss out the terrorists from the average Joes. Here’s what the Israeli system is based on: an ill-defined set of prejudices including criteria like skin color, ethnicity, name, stickers on your laptop, etc. If you are not white, not Israeli, not Jewish you are in for a very hard time. If you are black or Arab or have an Arab name fughgedaboudit. Or as the saying used to go: “If you’re black, get back.”
Why can’t the U.S. be more like Israel? Oh, I don’t know, maybe because we’re a democracy and take civil liberties seriously and Israel winks and nods at the notion. Maybe because we know enough about racial and ethnic profiling to reject the notion especially when you establish it at the core of a nation’s airline screening process. Maybe because we have a more balanced, nuanced understanding of the conflicting requirements of national security and individual liberty.
Here is a short summary of the posts I’ve written extolling the professionalism of Israeli airport security. There was the case of the Alvin Ailey American African American dancer separated from her company due to her skin color. The U.S. university president and former cabinet officer of Lebanese descent (yup, her name gave her away as an Arab terrorist) traveling to Israel to speak against BDS; the Hebrew University professor on her way to an academic conference until forced to part with her laptop. Or the award-winning Israeli-Palestinian documentary filmmaker forced to strip naked by El Al security apparently because her award, bestowed by no less a personage than George Clooney, made her a terrorism suspect. The American university professor on her way to an Israeli academic conference until called a terrorist by El Al security (she was likely confused with another person with the same name, who wrote in her online bio that as a child she lived in poor Pakistani and Iranian villages); or how about the daughter of the Israeli Supreme Court justice who herself was an Israel foreign ministry trainee harassed at the airport while being Arab; or the case of the American family refused exit from Israel for no more reason than that they didn’t have proper papers acknowledging they were Palestinian, when none of the detained children or mother were Palestinian (the father, who was not with them when detained was Palestinian); Not to mention the individuals prevented from entering Israel for no security reason whatsoever aside from their undesirable political views opposing the Israeli Occupation. Then there was the woman who had had a “dangerous” slogan stickered on her laptop, which earned it three bullets through the hard-drive. And oh man, if you’re a Harvard Law student doing academic research on land disputes between the Bedouin and Israeli government, don’t even think about it. And finally, we have the case of El Al security in South Africa demanding to search a dark-skinned airport visitor who wasn’t even flying.
Max Blumenthal once told me that on his last visit to Israel one of the questions the screener asked was which Hebrew school he attended. I tell you, that’s the true scientific basis of Israeli airport screening! Max also just asked how I’d imagine the Israelis would treat Barack Obama if they had their druthers. Sample dialogue:
Shabak screener: What kind of name is Barack?
Obama: I believe it’s related to the same name as your defense minister, Ehud Barak.
Q: What about your middle name Hussein? Are you Muslim?
A: No, I’m Christian actually. But my father was a Kenyan Muslim.
Q: Did you say Muslim? Can you step aside Mr. Obama? We’ll be moving you to the Arab line. You can expect to be shipped back to whereever you came from in, oh, about 9 hours. Enjoy your stay in Israel (or at least an Israeli holding cell).
Here is a former Shin Bet security officer describing Israeli screening procedures:
“What we are trained [for] is to look for the immediate threat – the Muslim guy.
…“The crazy thing is that we are profiling people racially, ethnically and even on religious grounds … This is what we do.”
Periodically, after a few too many of these incidents garnering bad publicity, an Israeli official makes a big show of reforming the system so that no one will be singled out for prejudicial treatment. But you remember the old Who song: “Here’s to the new boss, just like the old boss.”
So, please, the next time you read any more of this crap in the MSM tell them about these incidents and ask whether this is the system we want in the U.S. Would we prefer some inconvenience and full body scans or outright ethnic profiling passing for sophisticated airport screening techniques? If Israel wants good press I’m afraid it’s going to have to earn it. And this isn’t the way.
Thankfully, this Washington Post writers hasn’t drunk the Kool-Aid.
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.