Covering the failed attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to destroy a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Michigan, ABC's new anchor, Diane Sawyer, brought up the perennial question of Israeli airport security (World News with Diane Sawyer, December 28, 2009). While the veteran journalist allowed that Israeli security measures were "legendary," she also emphatically and falsely charged that Israel "openly, openly tried to profile the passengers. One critic called it flying while Muslim."
ABC's Justice correspondent, Peirre Thomas, then weighed in, adding to the misinformation with his claim, citing unnamed experts, that Israelis "routinely profile Muslims and Arabs and they're unapologetic."
Here's the video clip (the transcript is below):
In fact, contrary to Sawyer and Thomas, Israel does not profile on the basis of religion or ethnicity. This should be obvious if only from the fact that 20 percent of Israel's population is Arab if Israel profiled Arabs or Muslims the airport would ground to a halt and there would be security lines out the door. Anyone who's been to Ben Gurion knows that's not how it is.
Instead Israel profiles for what could be called terrorist behavior. For example, since Gaza is a hotbed of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, anyone from Gaza would probably be subject to heightened scrutiny. But so would, say, a Christian from France who visited Gaza and met with Hamas members. Thats not racial profiling, its behavioral profiling.
Rafi Ron, the former head of security at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, was hired after the 9/11 terror attacks to help US airports improve their security. Here's how he described Israel's aviation security measures on CNN (In The Money, August 13, 2006):
RAFI RON: ... it is not profiling, as it is perceived here in this country. Which is racial profiling. Basically as a person ran security at the airport for a very long five years, I should mention the fact that we have learned the lesson the hard way having been attacked twice once by a group of Japanese tourists. And the second time by a German, blue eyed, blond hair terrorist. None of which are answered through the expected so-called Palestinian terrorist profile. So we have learned the hard way that just watching for ethnicity and nationality may mislead us and it has misled people in the past.
SERWER: What do you look for?
RON: We are looking for behavior. We are looking for certain patterns in a person's background. If we have access to that information. And there is a possibility to do that through databases. Once the person books for a flight. But more than that, we get a lot off a person's behavior at the airport and through an interview being run across the board with 100 percent of the passengers.
That is, contrary to the false claims of Dianne Sawyer and Pierre Thomas, Israel does not racially profile it profiles for terrorists, in large part by recognizing psychological and behavioral patterns that have been studied and refined over many years.
Which is why if you go to Israel (has Peirre Thomas ever been there?) you might see a Bedouin in full robes, or for that matter Hanan Ashrawi, easily pass through security. In fact, there's eyewitness evidence that Hanan Ashrawi has easily passed through Israeli airport security. This is from a profile of Hanan Ashrawi by Barbara Amiel (London Sunday Times, May 2, 1993):
When Ashrawi and I travelled back from Washington to Tel Aviv we arrived at Lod airport at 4:45 AM. With us was Haidar Abdul Shafi. As we lined up for passport clearance Ashrawi turned to me: "They'll give me the white card and you the pink one. The white card is for VIP's -- Very Important Palestinians. They take it away with my passport when we go through to pick up our baggage and I don't get my passport back until they have searched every inch of my bags."
As we stood in line I watched the authorities speak to Shafi and open up a special counter. He was through passport control in seconds. The Israeli passport officer did give Ashrawi a white card and me a pink one and then they took both our cards with a friendly smile as we entered the baggage area. They didn't take her passport or search her luggage.
And apparently not just Ashrawi got through Israeli security easily: the person traveling with her, Dr. Haidar Abdel Shafi, also got "through passport control in seconds." Abdel Shafi, it should be noted, was a Palestinian politician from Gaza, and a supporter of the radical PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, founded by the notorious George Habash). And even Abdel Shafi easily got through Israeli security. Obviously there wasn't much profiling of Arabs on this day!
On the other hand, Scandinavian-looking backpackers traveling to Israel can end up in secondary screening, with their baggage minutely examined.
Diane Sawyer might learn from Israeli airport screeners for example she should consider minutely examining the facts before leveling reckless charges.
DIANE SAWYER (ABC NEWS)
(Off-camera) A quick question to you, Pierre, about Israel. As we know its legendary security there for boarding airplanes and they openly, openly tried to profile the passengers. One critic called it flying while Muslim. What about that?
PIERRE THOMAS (ABC NEWS)
(Off-camera) Well, we spoke to some Israeli security officials today and they were blunt. They do routinely profile Muslims and Arabs and they're unapologetic. One private security official told me today not all Muslims all terrorists but nearly all terrorists are Muslim. The official acknowledged that this approach might make many Americans uncomfortable but said the Israelis have not had a successful attack on an airplane for more than 30 years.
DIANE SAWYER (ABC NEWS)
(Off-camera) Okay, Pierre, thanks to you. And as we know, of course, Israel has far fewer flights per day than in the US.