A French citizen named Claude Lanzmann was delayed for questioning at Ben-Gurion International Airport for what a female security inspector interpreted as sexual harassment. No regulation requires an inspector to know that this particular Frenchman is an important intellectual, "the documenter of the 20th century Jewish drama," as has been written about him, the creator of the immortal documentaries "Shoah" and "Tsahal." An inspector is not required by law to know that Lanzmann was once Simone de Beauvoir's lover and a good friend of Jean-Paul Sartre, and that he had a love affair on a kibbutz in the 1950s.
She is required to inspect, question and confirm that in a passenger's luggage, any passenger's, there are no substances or tools that could endanger the flight. No regulation requires her to flirt or submit herself to an embrace as part of the inspection process.
I don't know exactly what happened between the inspection and the catalyst for the sexual harassment complaint. Of the inspection, Lanzmann says: "Sometimes there is an exaggeration - even sadistic conduct - by some of the female security workers, who stick like robots to their repeated questions without considering the fatigue or age of the person undergoing a prolonged search." Meanwhile, he calls the alleged sexual harassment nothing more than a "technical" embrace, the placing of a hand on a shoulder. This can and should be checked. Even "sadistic" workers have rights.
One could also examine Lanzmann's complaints about the security check; if it didn't involve a man of many accomplishments and alleged sexual harassment, no one would be worked up about the invasive, crude and insensitive security check Lanzmann underwent. Hundreds if not thousands of people go through this process, some of whom swear they will never return to Israel because of the humiliation. The problem is many times worse when an Israeli Arab has to undergo the check. Here it's not a matter of a foreigner but the labeling of an entire population as "threat potential," against which the High Court of Justice came out last year.
After the ruling on that petition, which was filed back in 2007 by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the security services pledged to improve the profiling procedures that define potential candidates for carrying out terror attacks. They agreed to improve the "telephone service center" that allows an Israeli business or institution to request a lenient check of a foreign visitor. This would be applied to Israeli citizens as well, eventually instituting "more comfortable" procedures for Israeli Arabs.
Three years after the filing of the petition and the squirming of the Shin Bet security service around the question of labeling Arabs a potential threat, the Haifa Magistrate's Court ruled that El Al had to pay NIS 30,000 in compensation to two brothers from Iksal for their humiliating experience during a security check.
In June 2011, MKs discussed appointing a "liaison person for minority matters" at the airport authority. Such a person already exists, but the problems haven't ended. In that discussion, the authority's Shlomo Oren said his organization would invest about NIS 300 million in sophisticated equipment to eliminate the need to separate Arabs from others for the security check. Everyone would be equal before the machines.
The equipment is supposed to be installed this year or at the beginning of next year. The thing is, even then Israeli Arabs won't stop being considered "threat potential" for carrying out terror attacks. It's just that they won't be marked out a priori and equality will reign happily ever after.
Don't hold your breath. The security check of Israeli Arabs at the airport, with or without the "egalitarian equipment," is not a question of technology and does not resemble the Lanzmann affair. The security check is based on a worldview that no X-ray machine can spot and no High Court of Justice can uproot. It's part of the Israeli Jewish DNA. One could thank Lanzmann, "the documenter of the Jewish drama," who has reminded us about this worldview.
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