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Three Jewish Israelis were deported from New York's JFK Airport last weekend after telling border control agents they were considering visiting a friend seeking political asylum in the United States. Despite the Israelis' protestations and the attempts by attorneys to post bail for their release, the three travelers were unceremoniously boarded on the first plane back to Tel Aviv.

Anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia? No, just a fictional inversion of an incident revealed by Amira Hass in yesterday's Haaretz. The actual event, which took place last Thursday, involved three American tourists (Christian pilgrims), all born in Ethiopia or Eritrea. All three were held for hours at Ben-Gurion International Airport after one of them told an Israeli official that they planned to visit an African refugee seeking asylum in Israel. Rather than review the case, the Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority summarily deported all three.

It seems immigration officials have had a busy Passover holiday, having expelled three Swedish citizens of Palestinian origin several days earlier who had arrived as part of an educational group. The group also included four Jewish Swedes who were allowed to remain. Such incidents are only becoming more commonplace.

The explanations offered by immigration officials for the incident are unconvincing. A more compelling reason is required to prevent someone bearing the appropriate documents from exercising his right to enter Israel, just as every Israeli expects other countries to grant him entry. Any security concerns that could prevent the entry of dangerous passengers are supposed to be aired before the traveler boards his plane for Israel, not after he lands; this was not the case with the three Americans. If Israeli immigration authorities had even the slightest suspicion that the tourists were planning to join their friend in requesting refugee status, they should have proved as much with substantive evidence. Instead, they acted merely on assumptions, offering no justification for their decision to order a deportation - one based on information willingly and innocently proffered, not gleaned from a criminal or intelligence file.

The authorities' conduct was both unjust and injurious to Israel's good name. David Ben-Gurion, who lent his name to the gateway by which most visitors enter the country, hoped to see Israel become "a light unto the nations," not a red light with a towering barrier closed arbitrarily.