Is Israel’s airport security really better than America’s?

Sometimes a Muslim-sounding name is enough. Donna Shalala, a 69-year old American of Lebanese descent who was President Clinton’s secretary of Health and Human Services and is now president of the University of Miami, was detained and questioned for 2.5 hours at Ben Gurion in July. The Israeli press said she was subject to a humiliating security debriefing because of her Arab last name.

In another incident that made headlines here this fall, Heather Bradshaw, an Indiana University professor, was subjected to a body search and forced to turn over her bra to authorities as she tried to board an El Al flight from London’s Luton airport to Tel Aviv to attend an academic conference. All her belongings except her passport and credit cards were taken from her before she was allowed to board. She got them back three days later, after friends in Israel intervened…

“They began with my hair, even though it is only two centimeters long. They began feeling through it, then examining behind my ears, the neck, the shoulders. They began feeling me under my bra, and then continued on to my tummy. I felt as though I was under a sexual assault,” said Hunaida Ghanem, an Israeli Arab resident of Jerusalem who has a PhD from Hebrew University in sociology and a post-doctoral degree from Harvard, recalling an incident at the airport in June last year.

“I have been through searches in the U.S. But what they did here was very different. It was very humiliating,” she added. Since then, Ghanem has declined six invitations to attend conferences abroad, saying she finds it emotionally difficult to go to the airport.