French-Algerian billionaire's son 'humiliated' at Ben-Gurion, igniting diplomatic incident

Israel's ambassador to France, Aliza Ben-Nun, and her deputy, Mark Atali, met with the businessman, who has asked that his identity not be revealed.

By GIDEON KUTS / MA'ARIV
September 17, 2015 10:59
3 minute read.
El Al

An El Al Boeing 777 aircraft is seen at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport. (photo credit: NIR ELIAS/REUTERS/IDF SPOKESMAN)

 
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Foreign Ministry officials are furious with the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and border control officials at Ben-Gurion Airport after the son of a prominent French-Algerian billionaire known for his support for Israel was subjected to invasive questioning just before his departure.

Israeli Ambassador to France Aliza Ben-Nun and her deputy, Mark Atali, met with the Muslim businessman, who has asked that his identity not be revealed. The diplomats apologized to him and urged him to continue his work in improving relations between the Jewish and Muslim communities in France.

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“This is not the first time that security personnel at Ben-Gurion Airport have behaved in such a manner,” an unnamed Israeli diplomat told Ma’ariv. “A stupid, unprofessional young woman can in one fell swoop destroy diplomatic efforts that took years to build, but we have no control over them.”

According to information obtained by Ma’ariv, the young man, who holds French citizenship, arrived in Israel for the first time to celebrate his 18th birthday.

Prior to his trip, the Foreign Ministry provided the security services with information about him so as to avoid any problems.

After the businessman’s son concluded his stay in Israel, he was held up by a security agent at Ben-Gurion Airport while his French-Jewish girlfriend was permitted to proceed to the gate.

The youth was asked if he was a Muslim. When he answered in the affirmative, the agent then asked “insulting” questions, which he answered politely, according to sources. The young man was then separated from his other Jewish friends, who flew home, while he was taken in for further questioning that lasted two hours.

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Eventually, the young man managed to make his flight, but his luggage was held up in Israel, until the Foreign Ministry intervened and shipped it back to Paris. The teen’s father told Ma’ariv his son was shocked by the treatment he was subjected to in front of his Jewish friends, particularly when he had planned to tell his Muslim friends in France that they erred in thinking that Israel discriminated against Muslims.

“It turns out they were correct,” the son told the father. “In my case, the experience was a failed one.”

After the father received an apology from Israeli diplomats, he tried to convince his son that “the behavior of one young woman shouldn’t ruin years of work.”

Initially, the businessman had decided to cut ties with Israel, but he then relented, vowing to continue supporting Israel after being convinced that the security agent who humiliated his son does not represent the country.

“The fact that there are unprofessional people who are hired to do security work in Israel worries me,” he said. “For my son, this was pure racism. These kinds of incidents cannot be repeated. I have acted on Israel’s behalf in recognition of the fact that 70 years after the Holocaust, we cannot return and say to the Jews and their state what was said to them then, and we cannot reconcile with anti-Semitic terrorism.

“So we can’t have a situation where the behavior of one woman changes people’s opinions,” he said.

In response, the Israel Airports Authority issued a statement, saying: “The purpose of security checks is to remove any fears or threats against flights and passengers at Ben-Gurion Airport. Moreover, the security agents provide a unique service that is well known, including to the Foreign Ministry.

It should be noted that no complaint was filed by the passenger.

If one is submitted, it will be investigated.”

The Foreign Ministry also issued a statement, saying: “The Foreign Ministry and the Airports Authority work in tandem and in a positive manner. We commend the Airports Authority and the security agents for their excellent work, work which contributes to the security of all passengers and people in Israel.”

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