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Members of Barcelona's gay community who were official guests of the Foreign Ministry say they were put through a rigorous security check, complete with bizarre questions and humiliating treatment, when they left the country last week. The Israel Airports Authority insisted that the check was routine and polite, but the damage to Israel's image had already been done: The delegation members, who took part in Tel Aviv's Gay Pride parade despite pressure by anti-Israel organizations, declared they would never return to Israel.

It seems the Airports Authority and the Shin Bet security service, which is responsible for the security checkers, have misinterpreted their job. Yes, they must conduct comprehensive security checks for the benefit of all the passengers. But the checks are supposed to be carried out politely and courteously, as a service to the citizen, not like a military hazing.

In some cases, the checkers permit themselves to deviate from the usual security procedure and put outgoing passengers through a rigorous, offensive interrogation that looks more like intelligence gathering than protection. This is especially grave when the examination is done via the controversial profiling method, which mainly singles out Israel's Arab citizens.

In March, the High Court of Justice responded to a petition on this matter by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel by ordering the state to explain why security checks at Ben-Gurion Airport should not be conducted on the basis of "equal, pertinent and uniform" criteria. The justices, who examined all the complex aspects of this issue and compared Israel's procedures with those of other states, said it was unacceptable to label an entire population. By the same token, it is unacceptable to label entire groups, or individuals, for unclear reasons and and publicly humiliate them.

Security personnel in airplanes and airports worldwide must contend with risks and terrorist threats, and it is clear that all passengers must be checked. But this must be done in an egalitarian manner, even if it entails inconveniencing all passengers. It must be done more by using innovative technologies and less by rummaging manually through suitcases, and by a polite staff that understands it is providing a service to the public, not giving orders.

Israel cannot afford to rudely drive away those who come to visit it.