Discrimination at Ben-Gurion

Last week Israel deported three Swedish women from Ben-Gurion International Airport who had arrived in a group of seven young people of Jewish and Palestinian heritage, active members of a Jewish-Palestinian education group in Sweden. The three women - all Swedish citizens of Palestinian background, two of whom were born in Sweden - were loaded onto a plane home after being held at the airport for eight hours of intermittent questioning.

Amira Hass reported in Haaretz Hebrew Edition on Friday that a Jewish member in the group, Tigran Feiler - whose father is the Israeli-Swedish artist Dror Feiler and whose grandmother was among the founders of Kibbutz Yad Hanna - was also delayed in his arrival. In addition, he was asked to sign a statement that he would not enter Palestinian territory and was ordered to provide NIS 5,000 in collateral. Feiler ultimately signed under protest, stating that in his 25 previous visits to Israel he had never received such hostile treatment.

The Interior Ministry did not respond to a request by Haaretz to explain the authorities' conduct toward Feiler and the deportation of his compatriots, or to a request to supply figures on other foreign citizens deported under similar circumstances. Still, there has been a rise of incidents recently in which Israel has prevented foreigners from entering due to their pro-Palestinian views or activities in promoting peace. Two years ago, Jewish-American historian Norman Finkelstein was barred from entering the country on such grounds and was subjected to the humiliation of deportation after being questioned at Ben-Gurion.

It's hard to believe that the three Swedish women in question threatened national security, having come to Israel for educational purposes and to coordinate meetings between Israelis and Palestinians. The policy of closing the country's doors to visitors based on their political ideology is foreign to democratic countries. The fact that the group's Jewish members were ultimately allowed to stay while the Swedes of Palestinian origin were not colors the affair with more than a tinge of race-based discrimination.

The group came to Israel through the funding of the Olof Palme International Center, a Swedish nonprofit group with ties to the country's labor movement. Its members are active in an organization that promotes coexistence between Jews and Palestinians in Sweden's schools. Israel's doors should have been opened to them. Continuing a policy of denying entry to visitors for political reasons is liable to make European countries, and perhaps even the United States, adopt a similar stance against Israeli citizens. One can only imagine the scandal that would erupt in Israel if Sweden had prevented West Bank settlers or rightist activists from entering its territory.

Israel must remain a country open to visitors, whatever their worldview. Deporting tourists causes negative repercussions in their countries of origin, hardly contributing to the view of Israel abroad as a liberal, enlightened state - an image already severely compromised. Visitors who do not present a clear security threat must not be expelled. Israel should apologize to the deported Swedish women, invite them to return, and let them visit the country and experience it openly for themselves.