Black employee of Jewish org. says she was racially profiled, humiliated at Israeli airport

A Black woman, B., said she was racially profiled and humiliated at Ben-Gurion Airport for hours by local security personnel who doubted her credentials.

 People arrive at Ben Gurion Airport on February 13 from Ukraine.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
People arrive at Ben Gurion Airport on February 13 from Ukraine.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

A Black senior employee of a major American Jewish organization said she was racially profiled and humiliated at Ben-Gurion Airport for hours by local security personnel who wouldn’t believe that she worked for a Jewish organization.

An email detailing the humiliating experience was sent by the board president of a prominent Jewish-American organization to William Daroff and Dianne Lob, the CEO and chairwoman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (COP).

The email was then shared with the Israeli government and was then obtained by The Jerusalem Post.

The woman, identified only as “B,” is Black and began working for the Jewish organization recently, said the president, adding: “I think it’s important that you both know how a senior leader of a member organization was treated at the end of an otherwise positive trip to Israel.” She asked the two heads of COP, an advocacy umbrella for American-Jewish organizations, to consider “voicing our displeasure to the Israeli government.

What happened at Ben-Gurion?

B. wrote in great detail about what happened when she left Israel after what she called a successful visit, as part of her role in the organization where she works. “Unfortunately, as I prepared to return to the US on July 1, I had an awful experience with airport security.” She said that “one agent flagged me for additional screening.”

 Israelis stand in line for a flight to Istanbul, at Ben-Gurion International Airport, outside of Tel Aviv, June 15, 2022. (credit: MAYA MARGIT/THE MEDIA LINE) Israelis stand in line for a flight to Istanbul, at Ben-Gurion International Airport, outside of Tel Aviv, June 15, 2022. (credit: MAYA MARGIT/THE MEDIA LINE)

While in the additional screening area, B. said that a security supervisor shared that a device in her handbag was “suspicious.” She explained that “TSA recommends that it be carried on to planes because of the battery type.”

He then asked B. about her profession. She shared that she worked in a senior position at an American Jewish organization, identifying it by name. “His facial expression looked surprised and he asked again if I worked for a Jewish organization. I shared that I did. He walked me to my items in the security bin and asked me for proof of my employment – anything that showed that I worked there,” B. said.

“I opened my phone and showed him emails with my signature. I also happened to have the organization’s lanyard and key card for work. I showed him those as well. I asked him if I was in danger of missing my flight.” According to the senior employee, he said “I hope not but we will see.” As she waited, she noticed “a disproportionate amount of people of color in the additional screening area being held and questioned.”

B. had to sit down and wait for the security representative to return. He returned and asked her again to explain about her job. “I shared that I manage the internal departments,” she said. “He then again asked to confirm: ‘are you telling me that a Jewish organization hired you to manage finance?’ I again shared that yes, that was one department that I oversee. He shook his head and walked away.”

“He then again asked to confirm: ‘Are you telling me that a Jewish organization hired you to manage finance?’ I again shared that yes, that was one department that I oversee. He shook his head and walked away”

B., a top official in a Jewish organization that was racially profiled at Ben-Gurion Airport

Even though she reached the airport 4.5 hours early, she was stuck in security and in the meantime, her flight was boarding. “He asked why I was in Israel. I shared that our organization just co-hosted an event at the ANU Museum for Jewish People and I was visiting colleagues.”

He then asked, according to B, for names of her coworkers and office addresses and names of hotels.” She shared the names of people who she visited and the names of the hotels she stayed at. “I again suggested that he use Google to confirm my identity.”

She asked if she’d be able to fly home and noted that her plane was boarding. He replied, “we’ll see.”

At 12:40 am, she was still stuck in security, and her flight was expected to depart 10 minutes later. “He returned and asked me why I was traveling alone,” she said. “I found this question odd as many adults take professional solo trips. I again answered that I was visiting for work.”

She added that “I was so hurt, that I finally began to cry. After I began to cry, he shared that he called my gate and held my plane but I needed to hurry. My items were disheveled after being searched and in multiple bins. I hastily threw everything back into a bag and ran to the gate. I was released from security at 12:42 a.m.”

She concluded her e-mail to her colleagues by stating: “In my opinion, this was a case of racial profiling and the aggravating event did not conclude until I cried. This was unacceptable and unfortunate. He did not believe that I, as a Black woman, could be an executive at a Jewish organization. Additionally, he did not take the very simple steps of performing a Google search to verify my identity. Instead, he continued to question me until I was emotionally broken.”

The greater Jewish response

“American-Jewish organizations have many employees that are neither white nor Jewish and some who are Black and Jewish. It does not help us make the case for Israel in the US if our top people come back and report experiences like this to their friends and families,” Lob said.

“Sadly, B. is not the first person I know who has had an experience like this and I would like no one else to have it in the future,” she concluded.

The Israel Airports Authority told The Jerusalem Post that “the purpose of the Security check is the safety and security of the passengers and the flight only. We are very sorry if the passenger was hurt.”