I Wanted To Meet With Arabs – So Israel Treated Me Like One

April 26, 2019

Laura Mandel writes in Forward:

I’ve never felt much fear or anxiety about traveling to Israel. I always knew I was protected by my American passport and, above all, by my status as a Jewish person. And I knew that Israeli Arab citizens do not share this sense of safety while traveling to or from their home country. But an experience I recently had at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport taught me a new lesson on the relations between the Jewish majority and Arab minority in Israel.

In the past decade or so of going back and forth with relative frequency, I’ve become accustomed to the routine slate of questions that security agents at Ben Gurion Airport tend to ask. There’s the mundane, “What is the purpose of your visit?” or “Where are you staying?” and the slightly more invasive, “Which Jewish holidays do you celebrate?” or “What is the name of your childhood synagogue?”

The truth is, these questions never scared me because I always had good answers to them, the “right” answers. Last week, on my way to Ben Gurion for a return flight back home to San Francisco, the thought briefly crossed my mind that maybe this time I should be more careful with my words. I was coming off of an intensive but inspiring week with the Abraham Initiatives, an Israeli nonprofit that promotes full and equal citizenship for Jews and Arabs in Israel, and on whose board I serve. Could this even possibly raise an eyebrow with security? I quickly dismissed it.

But I was wrong. Sure enough, the questions came. “A nonprofit?” the agent asked me. “What do they do?” Once the word “Arab” fell out of my mouth, it was as though I had set off an alarm, a warning signal. My case was promptly referred to a supervisor.

The second agent escalated the questioning. “Why would an American Jew care about relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel?” he asked me. I froze. My heart started racing. I knew that the question had a compelling answer, but I was shaken by even needing an answer under such circumstances. That’s when I realized — they were trying to intimidate me because of what I had been doing in Israel.

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