El Al Israel Airlines plane
An El Al Israel Airlines plane. Photo by Ilya Melinkov
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El Al agents in the Netherlands exercised racial discrimination against dark-skinned passengers, a Dutch government judicial watchdog on human rights ruled last week.

In a ruling dated September 30, the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights, a legal review board set up by the Dutch parliament, states that El Al representatives racially profiled five Dutch passengers based on their appearance and race.

The case was brought to the watchdog's attention in a complaint filed by a university student of Pakistani descent who, the ruling says, traveled to Israel from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol on January 28, 2011 with 14 other students, nine of whom were white.

According to the ruling, airline staff marked the five dark-skinned passengers' tickets with the letter T and questioned them about their ethnicity and origins, but did not subject the white passengers to the same questioning.

The institute, an advisory organ that began working in 2012, did not name any of the passengers or agents in its ruling, which is not binding on the Dutch legal system.

In its ruling, the watchdog described the questioning as “intimidating,” and said the dark-skinned passengers' “hand luggage was checked, they had to undress and were frisked.”

El Al has denied racial discrimination and told the institute that they question passengers based on non-discriminatory criteria, but would not specify which criteria were employed, the institute said.

“El Al’s directives for questioning and all other security procedures are decided by Israeli security bodies including the Shin Bet [security service],” El Al spokesperson Anat Friedman told JTA.