Israel detains prominent Jewish-American critic at airport
JERUSALEM (AP) — A prominent Jewish-American commentator who has been critical of Israel’s policies said Monday that he was detained by Israeli airport authorities and interrogated about his political views before he was allowed to enter the country.
The questioning of Peter Beinart was the latest in a string of incidents in which Jewish critics of Israel have been interrogated about their politics by border officials. The Israeli government called the incident a mistake.
Beinart, a contributor to The Atlantic, CNN and the Israeli daily Haaretz, considers himself a supporter of Israel, but has been an outspoken critic of the government’s hard-line policies toward the Palestinians and close alliance with President Donald Trump.
He has warned of a growing rift between Israel and the predominantly liberal Jewish-American community, and said that Israel must establish a Palestinian state to ensure its survival as a Jewish-majority democracy. Such views are shared by many on Israel’s political left.
In an interview, Beinart said he was pulled aside when he arrived with his family on Sunday to attend a relative’s bat mitzvah.
Beinart said he was sent to a small room where a security official asked about his political activities and whether he was involved in groups that advocate violence, threaten democracy or promote anarchy.
Beinart said he was then asked about his participation in a nonviolent West Bank protest two years ago. He said the interview ended after he said he would not be joining any protests on his current visit. He was released after calling a well-known Israeli human rights lawyer. In all, he said he was held for over an hour.
Beinart called his experience “trivial” when compared to the experiences of others, particularly Palestinians and Palestinian Americans who travel through Israel’s main international airport.
“My hope would be that this provokes a conversation more generally about the way in which Israel harasses people based on their political views,” he said. “The real scandal is what happens to people who are much more vulnerable than me because they don’t have the privilege that I have as an American Jew.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said that upon learning of Beinart’s detention he immediately asked Israeli security officials what happened and was told it was an “administrative mistake.”
“Israel is an open society which welcomes all - critics and supporters alike,” his office said. “Israel is the only country in the Middle East where people voice their opinions freely and robustly.”
The Shin Bet internal security service apologized for causing any anguish and said it was investigating.
In recent weeks, a left-wing Israeli author who lives in the U.S. said he was detained at the airport for a “cautionary conversation” about his political activities, while two Jewish-American women involved in Israeli left-wing causes were questioned about their political work with Palestinians while entering the country from Egypt.
Israel has also begun enforcing a ban on foreign activists who support boycotts of the country.