Racial profiling is just racism: A response to Goldberg

Jeffery Goldberg, one of the most well know Jewish American journalists, had an entry in his blog raving about Israeli security procedures at Ben Gurion airport. Ben Gurion (TLV) has no naked-scanning machines and you don’t have to take off your shoes. Instead, security personnel use racial profiling, thoroughly checking Arabs in back rooms while exempting Jewish Israelis and tourists with a few standard security questions. “I find answering a series of questions about my travel less invasive than posing like a mugging victim in a machine that takes pictures of you naked,” Goldberg concludes. A perfect example of self-inflicted blindness: As Mairav Zonszein was quick to note, the reason Goldberg ended up with such a positive experience was that he wasn’t part of the ethnic group that is targeted by racial profiling.

Goldberg got some responses to his post pointing out to this issue, so he posted another piece, which actually made things worse. He would allow racial profiling in Israel (but not in the States), because “Israel is in open conflict with several Muslim terror groups,” Goldberg writes. To an Arab reader he reminds us that today is the 20th anniversary of the bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina, “so it isn’t the best day to complain about this ‘imaginary threat.'”

If it’s history class we have entered, it is worth remembering that the two most serious terror attacks concerning air travel to Israel – the kidnapping of an Air France flight in 1976 to Entebbe and the attack in Ben Gurion in 1972, which claimed the life of 24 people – were committed by German and Japanese terrorists, respectively. But the important point is that Goldberg avoids the true meaning of the criticism against the use of racial profiling at the Israeli airport. Nobody seriously claims that the security check should be canceled – only that all passengers should go through the same procedure, uncomfortable as it may be.

Just like Goldberg, as an Israeli Jew, I find the check at Ben Gurion much more polite and pleasant than the ones I go through on U.S. domestic flights. However, if you look around at the departure hall, it is hard not to notice the Arab families waiting in a parallel line before being taken to a side room, where they are examined for hours and at times, strip-searched. I would rather we all go through the same system: Be that harsh questioning or naked-scanning. The discomfort and the time loss for the Jewish travelers is a small price to pay for better relations between ethnic groups in this country.

The fact that Goldberg argues against racial profiling in his own country is even more troubling; to his credit I would admit that it’s not the first time I hear American Jews explaining why their U.S.-style liberalism can’t or shouldn’t be implemented in my country.

And there is another point which Goldberg avoids. He writes:

Of course, Israeli airport security doesn’t merely scrutinize Muslim travelers. In fact, based on the profiles in operation at Ben-Gurion, single European and American women traveling alone are most often singled out for special treatment.

I don’t know what made him come to this conclusion (evidence suggests otherwise), but the main point is this: “European and American women traveling alone” are not Israeli citizens. Most Palestinians detained for hours at TLV are. It’s their own country that views them all as potential terrorists. As his initial post revealed, Jeffrey Goldberg, an American, is treated better at the airport because he is a Jew, while citizens of this very country are held for hours and at times, humiliated. The underlying message is that Israel is more his country than it is their country. Unlike Goldbreg, I don’t find this to be something worth celebrating.

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