Israelify the US? Not if you Like the Constitution
In the wake of the controversy which just passed in the U.S. over full body scans and more hands-on pat down procedures in airports, some pundits and security “experts” are calling for the Israelification of American airports.
These supporters sing praises of the system in place Israel’s single international airport. They say it is focused more on actual security rather than “security theatre,” yet I would argue that Israelification already has a firm foothold in America, and not just in our airports. The increasing normalization of war crimes conducted and justified in the name of fighting terror, the growing specter of the security state with the patriot act and warrantless wiretaps, ascendance of the “clash of civilizations” worldview among Americans pitting East versus West, and the parallel growth of Islamophobia have all pulled the American mindset closer to the Israelis’.
American airports also seem to have copied one title aspect of the Israeli screening system though certainly in a more discerning and less blatant way, namely racial profiling.
Reports of Muslims and Middle Easterners being harassed at airports, kicked off flights on suspicion or making other passengers uncomfortable, and targeted for extra security shot up after 9/11 and remain frequent. Anecdotally, I can tell you as a Palestinian American Muslim that every time I have flown in the States, I would be singled out for the “random” extra screening. When I fly internationally I can always expect to be escorted to the Homeland Security Office where I generally wait for at least a couple hours to be interviewed about my trips abroad.
Now my experience can be explained away by the authorities because most of the traveling abroad I do is in Syria and the tense relations between it and America. Yet the pundits today calling for even more of the same don’t seem to understand the depth of what they are asking for.
Rafi Sela, the Israeli president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy, compared American and Israeli security procedures in an interview with the Toronto Star. He said Israel’s six layers of security hinges on “behavioral profiling” rather than screening for physical threats alone like Americans.
Starting at the gate before even approaching the terminal, security officials stop every vehicle coming to the airport and look for signs of distress or nervousness from the occupants. Armed guards outside the terminal observe people as they move towards the doors also looking for suspicious behavior. At the gates, security agents “randomly” select certain passengers to be searched and pass through a metal detector. Inside, while waiting for the baggage scan, an interviewer conducts a 30-second interview, again looking for suspicious behavior and flags some passengers for an extra screening. Before checking in, all luggage is scanned in an X-ray machine. Finally, the last step is the body and hand luggage search much similar to the standard one-step American search except you can keep your shoes on.
“Even today with the heightened security in North American, they will check your items to death.” Sela said. “But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes ... and that's how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys."
In all, it should take most passengers no more than 25 minutes to get from the curb to the airport lounge, according to the Toronto Star. Yet the glaring deficiency in the whole system is that the system focused on profiling relies on the subjective judgment of the security guards who choose who to give extra attention to and who not. The screening practices take little effort to hide that race, religion and national origin are some of the main factors that determine the level of intrusion and hassle a person will face. For Jews, 25-minutes may be accurate but for everyone else, that quote is laughably false.
I wrote previously about my four-hour ordeal leaving through Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport, where my heritage and religion was one of the first topics the interviewer in the terminal asked about (I’ve learned to not be surprised by the racial questions any more). In all, I had to go through two luggage searches by hand, two pat downs, and four questionings.
Even if the system in place at Ben Gurion International could be copied to the hundreds of airports across the U.S. the blatant discrimination used in the screening process would clearly be unconstitutional. The focus is on the physical threat a person can pose to the airplane and its passengers preventing the possibility of arbitrary, subjective harassment that certain passengers face in the Israeli system.
No one should be more or less likely to be suspected or scrutinized by law enforcement because of their race or religion. Beyond that principle though, any system that profiles based on race, national origin or religion is doomed to be more harmful to the innocent targets than its purported benefits would warrant.
Not only would it be harmful to the individual rights of the thousands of innocent Muslim and Middle Eastern travelers who would become targets of such a system, it would also damage the cooperative relationship the American law enforcement authorities have spent years fostering with the Muslim community. In Israel, there is almost no cooperation between the authorities and the Palestinian and Muslim communities because of the mutual suspicion and distrust caused by generations of being targets of an ethnocentric regime.
This leads to the meat of why Israel is OK with racial profiling but America should never adopt such policies. Israel’s goal is the security and advancement of the Jewish people exclusively, only one of the many national groups which live under its authority. As such Israeli authorities can target members of the various out-groups without fear of violating the foundational, Zionist, principle that Jews and Jewish interests come first in Israel even while Israel purports itself to be a democracy for all its citizens.
In America, the guiding principals are in the Constitution, and the values of pluralistic democracy. Like Israel, it is a nation of immigrants; yet America has reached a level of maturity that it at least aspires to an ideal of equality among all its citizens and subjects, even if it falls short in so many cases.
Israel has never been able to approve a constitution as it would require Israelis to rectify their split personality as either Jewish or democratic. To Israelis racial or religious discrimination is no threat, in fact it can be seen as helpful, because the country is based on raising one nation above others, a completely un-American ideal.
Michael Khaled is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). He can be contacted at email@example.com.