One can only hope that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was sincere when he claimed that the outrageous detention and questioning of Peter Beinart at Ben-Gution Airport on August 13 had been an “administrative mistake.”
Beinart, a liberal American Jewish journalist who opposes Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its policies toward the Palestinians, was interrogated by the Shin Bet security service for an hour about his left-wing political views before being allowed to enter Israel to attend his niece’s bat mitzvah.
Netanyahu, who heads the most right-wing government in Israeli history, said he had spoken to the Shin Bet to inquire “how this happened” and had been told that an “administrative mistake” had been made. He went on to say that “Israel is an open society which welcomes critics and supporters alike” and where “people voice their opinions freely and robustly.”
The Shin Bet, for its part, apologized, expressing sorrow for the “distress” that had been inflicted on Beinart and announcing that an investigation had been ordered into the case.
These mea culpas are fine and good, but the Beinart incident was not the first of its kind at the airport involving Jewish Americans.
Last month, Meyer Koplow, a Jewish philanthropist who sits on the board of the UJA Federation in New York City and who chairs Brandeis University’s board of trustees, was questioned by a security agent for 10 minutes in the departure hall before being permitted to board his flight back to the United States.
Koplow had gone on a trip to Bethlehem organized by Encounter Programs, a non-partisan organization that introduces Jews to Palestinians in the West Bank. According to Koplow’s account, the security agent, having found a brochure in his luggage titled This Week in Palestine, repeatedly asked him “what purpose could possibly be served by people visiting the territories” and what he intended to do with the information he had gathered in the West Bank.
Dani Dayan, Israel’s consul general in New York City, issued an apology for “the inconvenience and embarrassment” caused to Koplow.
On August 5, Simone Zimmerman, a left-wing activist who lives in Israel on a work visa, was returning from a holiday in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula when she was subjected to a one-hour barrage of questions about herself and her views at the Israeli border near Eilat. She did not receive an apology.
Israel, a nation under siege by its enemies, has every right to monitor its borders and question incoming and outgoing travellers. This is a standard procedure practised by every country in the world and should not be seen as intrusive.
But when innocuous Jewish tourists are stopped and aggressively questioned because their views are not in alignment with the Israeli government of the day, a red line has been crossed and the tenets of democracy have been breached.
It is one thing to bar from Israel supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, as Israel has been doing since the passage of an anti-BDS law last year. It is quite another thing to harass tourists who disagree with Israel’s policies. Politicized interrogations of this kind will only widen the growing gap between Israel and progressive Jews. They must stop immediately.