The Hebrew University in Jerusalem filed a complaint with the Israeli airline El Al on Thursday over the "humiliating" treatment of visiting American scientist Professor Heather Bradshaw.
Bradshaw, who researches neuroscience at Indiana University, was at Cambridge University when she was invited to Hebrew University in Jerusalem for a conference. She told Haaretz that El Al security personnel detained her at Luton airport in London, confiscated all of her belongings, and repeatedly questioned her.
After the questioning, she said, she underwent a physical examination in which she was asked to remove her bra. The exam lasted nearly an hour, and at the end of it, she was reprimanded for holding up the flight. She also said that she was never told what it was she was suspected of.
Hebrew University officials warned in their complaint that "the world's top scientists will now refrain from visiting Israel due to interrogations and insensitive searches at Israel's airports."
"Needless to say," they added, "that this could harm Israel's scientific enterprise, which already faces multiple academic boycotts due to political circumstances."
In a stern letter addressed to El Al CEO Eliezer Shkedi, Hebrew University Rector Professor Sarah Stroumsa wrote that "in this instance, a line was crossed. This is not the first instance in which researchers and guests of the university are harassed by El Al security."
"Unfortunately, University staff are also not immune to this hurtful practice, which really has nothing to do with security concerns," she added.
Stroumsa explained that the conference was organized by a faculty within the university that "attracts the world's best scientists, including numerous Nobel Prize laureates who come every year to take part in prestigious scientific conferences. This type of activity benefits the Hebrew University, as well as the State of Israel, because, as we know, science is one of our country's most important strategic assets."
Stroumsa went on to say that "I certainly understand El Al's commitment to its passengers, but I expect the company to do its utmost to prevent unnecessary harm to its customers. El Al's security personnel looked at Professor Bradshaw's invitation documents with contempt, refused to believe that this researcher was indeed invited by the Hebrew University, but failed to contact the university to verify her identity. Clearly no decent judgment was utilized."
El Al issued a response to the complaint, saying that "the airline operates in accordance with the guidelines set by the security authorities."