Israeli Diplomat Says Humiliated by Racial Profiling at Ben-Gurion Airport: 'Makes Me Sick'

Ambassador Reda Mansour, a Druze, says he and his family were treated as suspects upon arrival at Tel Aviv airport ■ Spokesman says 'nothing wrong,' arguing he 'chose to be offended' ■ Foreign minister 'won't let it happen again'

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Passport control a Ben Gurion Airport, February 2019.
Passport control a Ben Gurion Airport, February 2019. Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

Israel's Ambassador to Panama Reda Mansour, who is Druze, harshly criticized on Saturday the treatment he and his family received during an inspection at Ben-Gurion Airport, saying they were humiliated and treated as suspects by security guards.

Mansour described the incident in a Facebook post, claiming he was asked to pull over and wait as he arrived at a checkpoint at the airport entrance, after the security guards were told he and his family came from the Druze-majority village of Isfiya. 

>> Read more: We’re just lucky there wasn’t an Arab with us | Opinion

Israeli Ambassador to Panama Reda Mansour.Credit: Mfclemos

"During the night, I thought to myself while on the plane: Go to hell Ben-Gurion Airport. 30 years of humiliation and you are still not done. In the past, you would beat us at the terminal, today you've progressed to treating us as suspects at the checkpoint at the entrance [to the airport]," Mansour wrote.

He added that "Isfiya is not a town in the [Palestinian] territories, but a home to the main military cemetery for fallen Druze soldiers who died during their service in the Israel Defense Forces.

"I advise that that you take your security guards and those in charge of their training to visit this cemetery and teach them about self-sacrifice and respect. Until then, I have only this to tell you: You make me sick."

The Israel Airports Authority spokesman was the only official to respond to Mansour's claims the same day, saying "the security inspection at Ben-Gurion Airport is carried out regardless of race, religion, and sex. When one meets more than 25 million passengers a year, there will be those who'll choose to be offended by a security guard who is merely doing her job. Even before an inquiry had been launched and only from reading the Facebook post, [I can say] there is nothing wrong with the security guard's conduct."

"My best friends, as well as your friends and relatives are buried in military cemeteries. I suggest that the respectable ambassador tell his daughter that the security guard is doing everything she can to protect her and the State of Israel," Lefler added.

Mansour, who was born in Isfiya, is an Israeli diplomat and poet. He held a number of senior posts in the Foreign Ministry in addition to publishing poems and prose.

Most Druze men in Israel join the Israeli army, and the community as a whole has traditionally set itself apart from the general Arab public in its alliance with the state. However, the Druze minorty in Israel is still discriminated against in many ways.

PM 'appreciates' envoy, but says nothing of incident

Some Israeli lawmakers also commented on the accusations of racial profiling on Saturday and a groupd of Foreign Ministry retirees expressed their solidarity with Mansour in a letter published Sunday, but it was only later on Sunday that the Foreign Ministry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin released any statements about the incident.

Netanyahu said only he spoke with the ambassador after the incident, adding in a statement that he has "great appreciation for the way he represents the State of Israel in Panama."

"The Druze community is dear to our hearts and we would continue to act in every way to strengthen the brotherly bond with them," Netanyahu added.

The Foreign Ministry released a statement saying it "would examine the incident, in coordination with Israel Airport Authority and Ambassador Mansour.

"We believe that the main encounter that takes place between public servants, including those who are in charge of security, and visitors departing Israel or arriving in the country must be carried out with professionalism while maintaining mutual respect," the statement read.

Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz added that he was sorry for the incident. "I cherish the work you have done, hug you and your family and the entire Druze community," he said in a statement.

"I will act to make sure cases like this will not happen again," Katz added.

Foreign Ministry retirees wrote a letter supporting Mansour. "Dear Reda, we've decided to write to you personally and express our sorrow for the experience you endured," the letter read.

"We were appalled by the treatment you, your daughter and the rest of your family received during the security inspection at Ben Gurion Airport as well as the condescending statement issued by the Israel Airport Authority spokesperson following the incident, which ignored your feelings.

"Throughout the years, we've seen you invest your heart and soul in the representation of the State of Israel in the world. You are an excellent ambassador and a pride to all of us. Please express our support to your daughter and the rest of your family.

"We are convinced that our friends at the Foreign Ministry will later find the way to show you their support," the letter said.

Rivlin: 'What matters is that you felt hurt'

President Rivlin said Sunday that although he was confident a serious investigation was underway, "what matters is what you feel, and if you felt so hurt, then we have to give it due consideration."

Saluting Mansour's diplomatic work, Rivlin also had a special thought for the relationship between Jews and Druze in Israel. "The alliance between us and the Druze is an alliance built in life, not just in death. We need to make sure we keep building it every day, every hour, and not just in times of crisis and battle," the president said.

On Saturday, Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz said in a statement that "Ambassador Mansour is not alone. The Netanyahu regime brands first and second-class citizens."

Meretz lawmaker Mossi Raz added that "the arbitrary [security] inspections at Ben-Gurion Airport are the best Hasbara campaign for those opposing Israel in the world," while fellow party member Tamar Zandberg said "the racist profiling at the airport must stop. It has nothing to do with security."

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