High Court greenlights racial profiling at Israel’s airports

High Court rejects petition calling for an end to racial profiling against Arabs at Ben-Gurion Airport, yet refuses to make a principled ruling on the policy as a whole.

Passengers at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport (Photo by ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)
Passengers at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport (Photo by ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)

Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected a petition by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), demanding an end to racial profiling at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday.

The petition — which the Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed in 2007 against the Shin Bet, the Transportation Ministry and the Israel Airports Authority — sought to eliminate the category of “Arab nationality” as a criteria for conducting special security checks in the airport. The petition described how Arab passengers often undergo humiliating treatment, including extra searches and questioning that are not applied to Jewish passengers, and called for all passengers to be subjected to the same security criteria, regardless of nationality.

Although Ben-Gurion Airport has made changes to its security policy in the years since the petition was filed – including the installment of an automated system to check all passenger luggage that replaced the public checks that often took place in the ticketing area — ACRI claimed that the new system only sweeps the policy of racial profiling under the rug.

And while the High Court’s decision does not make any principled ruling on the issue of racial profiling in Israeli airports, its rejection of ACRI’s petition and refusal to touch on the basic issue of whether Jews and Arabs should be treated equally in Israel’s airports provides a rubber stamp for the government’s discriminatory policy. According to the High Court:

“We must wait and see whether the significant changes that have been implemented will truly help and decrease the differentiation between Israeli citizens of different groups for the purpose of security checks in Israeli airports.”

The court further stated that ACRI will be able to re-submit the petition should the result of the airport’s changes fail to bring about the “desired outcome.” The court will reimburse the civil rights organization for court fees, as a goodwill gesture for its contribution to bringing about changes in airport security checks.

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