When it comes to racist border policies, Israel has no leg to stand on

The fuss ‘The Jerusalem Post’ made about its correspondent being denied entry to Saudi Arabia on religious, racial or national grounds is too much for one Arab-American journalist who was denied entry to Israel.

By Anna Lekas Miller

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

On Friday, United States President Barack Obama landed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was a whirlwind visit to reassure King Abdullah that even though the U.S. had backed down from intervening in Syria, had no intention of showing solidarity with the Arab world whatsoever and will continue negotiating with Saudi arch-rival Iran, Washington is still very interested in any oil that the desert kingdom has to offer.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to the desert camp. Although most of President Obama’s press entourage received the necessary visas to accompany the presidential visit without a problem, Jerusalem Post White House correspondent Michael Wilner was denied a visa to travel to Saudi Arabia.

The Jerusalem Post quickly condemned the action as exclusionary and anti-Semitic. In one of no fewer than four articles on its reporter’s exclusion, the paper’s editorial board asked, “How are we to understand the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s crass treatment of The Jerusalem Post, Israel’s only English language daily?”

We need look no further than the Kingdom of Israel’s crass treatment of a certain Open Zion reporter, who shall remain nameless. Just kidding, it’s me.

It was midnight on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport when my plane touched down. The applause of overeager American visitors and Israelis returning home filled the cabin. I was busy trying not to vomit. A few months earlier, after a seven-hour-long interrogation at the Israeli border, I had sworn I would never again set foot in Ben-Gurion Airport. However, after being invited to attend a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, I was back, Hebrew-language invitation letter in hand, along with the phone numbers of four good Jewish boys who promised to vouch for me.

It wasn’t good enough.

Four hours later, I was on a plane to Istanbul and banned from Israel for 10 years.

I will spare you the details of the interrogation, as I have written about them here, here and here. Let’s just say that journalist or no journalist, U.S. citizen or no U.S. citizen, I am a few shades too brown for the only democracy in the Middle East.

Like Michael Wilner, I am a professional journalist and had a professional purpose for my visit to Israel.

Like Michael Wilner, I was most likely denied entry based on my racial and religious background or affiliation with a certain looked-down-upon nation (in my case Palestine, in his case Israel). Both Saudi Arabia and Israel are renown for doing this. Saudi Arabia gives preferential treatment to Muslim foreign visitors, and has denied entry to Americans based on religion and nationality in the past.

Unlike Michael Wilner, I am not a unique case. I am one of many Arab- and Muslim-Americans who are denied entry to Israel, and by effect of Israel controlling the borders of occupied Palestine, to Palestine.

Unlike Michael Wilner, I had no outrage from the State Department or support from the White House. From other people’s experiences, I know that if I had called the United States Embassy or State Department, they would have asked if I was Jewish, and when I replied no, would not have helped me. While a U.S. citizen abusively detained in Syria, Lebanon or Iran would have elicited handwringing sympathy and condemnations of the cruelty of barbaric, western civilization-destroying regimes, my U.S.-born, slightly-too-brown-for-Israel self being interrogated, denied entry and deported with multiple police escorts is merely enforcing national security.

Granted, there have been a few steps in the right direction recently. After a seemingly endless controversy, the United States appears poised to deny Israel entry into its coveted visa waiver program, citing Israel’s “national security” policy that openly discriminates against Arab and Muslim travelers – even those whose passports carry a personal message from none other than John Kerry kindly requesting that the holder be permitted “to pass without delay or hindrance.”

Just yesterday, another Jerusalem Post editorial acknowledged the uproar over Israel’s denial of entry to Muslim and Arab-Americans. But instead of condemning, or dismissing it in a normal public relations move, it suggested that Israel’s notorious racial profiling should be a “role model for other countries.” Great.

My heart goes out to Michael Wilner. As a journalist banned from a country, I know how frustrating it is to not be able to do one’s job – or to be prevented from doing it well.

But isn’t it time that we held Israel to the same standards as the rest of the world on these matters?

Wait a minute; never mind. Nobody’s boycotting Saudi oil either.

Anna Lekas Miller is an independent journalist based in Brooklyn, NY. She writes about Israel/Palestine, the Middle East and Arab-America and tweets the daily antics of her #browngirlproblems @agoodcuppa. She is currently working on a book about Palestinian-Americans banned from Israel and Jewish-Americans traveling on Birthright. Check it out here.

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