Did you pack your Jewish identity yourself?

How Jewish must one be to escape airport's invasive security checks?

ben gurion security check 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ben gurion security check 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
What kind of a Jew are you? Can you sing Lecha Dodi? And do you fast on Yom Kippur? These are just some of the questions Israeli security personnel at the country's airports and border crossings ask tourists whose names, passports or replies to other queries indicate they may be Jewish. A Jerusalem-based US journalist who returned not long ago from a work trip to Egypt was asked by security officials at the Eilat border crossing not only about the origin of her last name, but when she had last attended synagogue. The journalist responded that she had last been there during Yom Kippur, and the security official then asked whether she had fasted on the holiday. Another American-based Jewess, who visits Israel at least once a year, was asked upon leaving Ben-Gurion Airport if she knew the Shabbat prayer Lecha Dodi, - and if so, would she please sing it. She did and found the experience amusing. Others were less amused. Anna Hajkova, 30, a Czech citizen who is a Holocaust researcher and a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto, told The Jerusalem Post about "a dreadful experience" with the security staff at Ben-Gurion ahead of her last flight to Berlin on February 17. "Security selected me for a check, and after a short examination, they decided - without bothering to tell me the reason - to proceed with a closer check. I was helpful and let them do whatever they needed with my luggage, only pointing out that I had a business meeting in Berlin for which I had to keep my clothes in order. The team was not polite and I had to insist to be given a seat, and not to have to stand for the one hour [that the check took]," Hajkova said. "Not only is it a fairly humiliating experience to have one's underwear examined piece by piece by two male security people, what was much worse was that once the check was finished, my suitcase was returned to me in a [state] of complete chaos," she recounted. When Hajkova protested about the security team's conduct, they told her in response that they were not a "packing service." Hajkova said that this was not the only bad experience she'd had with the security staff at the airport. "I object to this racist criteria, selecting single female travelers who look gentile in the eyes of the selecting security worker. It's always people who look like me who are selected," she said. "I don't criticize the system, [but] I strongly disagree with the way it is exercised. It's humiliating, abusive and arbitrary," she said. The Israel Airports Authority (IAA) said in response that "the IAA is responsible for the safety and security of more than 12 million passengers a year. The IAA conducts security checks in accordance with the instructions of the relevant offices." Regarding Hajkova's complaint, the IAA said the incident had been examined and that "no failure or deviation from the regular standards was found. We apologize for Ms. Hajkova's feelings, and a letter in that spirit was sent to her."