This past July, Donna Shalala, a Lebanese American, was detained at Ben Gurion Airport as she was leaving Israel. The Israeli daily Yediot Ahronoth and other news sources reported that she was held for more than two hours during which "she was asked invasive and personal questions" and subjected to a full baggage search because her Arabic last name triggered a security alert.
This flagrant case of ethnic profiling is painful on many levels, not the least of which is its tragic irony: Shalala, the current president of the University of Miami and former secretary of health and human services under Bill Clinton, was a VIP visitor who had arrived with a delegation of American university presidents to protest academic boycotts against Israel. During the trip, she also facilitated a private meeting between officials of Bar-Ilan University, who hope to create Israel's fifth medical school, and their counterparts at University of Miami Medical School, who have expressed interest in partnering on the project.
The daughter of immigrants from Lebanon's Maronite Catholic community, Shalala has always been what some Jews call "a good Arab." She's a close personal friend of many prominent American Jews. She's known as a stalwart supporter of Israel and an outspoken foe of anti-Semitism. According to The Jerusalem Post, she first visited Israel in the 1960s as a backpacker and has returned many times because she feels it important to bring as many non-Jews as possible to the country "to hear Israelis talk about their dreams and what they are trying to achieve as well as to meet Arabs." The University of Haifa and The Technion have awarded her honorary degrees.
For all that, Shalala's character, commitments and accomplishments were trumped by her Arabic name. Yet, rather than take offense, she said (to the relief of many Jews), "While I was inconvenienced, Israel's security and the security of travelers is far mart important. I have been going in and out of Israel for many years and expect to visit again."
One of my friends called her statement a "class act." But I wish she had vigorously protested her dehumanizing treatment and underlined the fact that Arab visitors and residents routinely suffer such indignities. I wish she had used her media moment to demand that Israeli authorities eliminate the racial profiling inherent in their security procedures.
What will it take for us Jews to realize that when we treat Arabs badly--not to mention stupidly--it neither encourages the proliferation of "good Arabs" nor enhances the public image of the Jewish state and the Jewish people?
Another case in point is the recent tarring of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who's arguably the best tiling that's ever happened to both Palestinian national aspirations and Israel's quest for a partner in peace. Fayyad's institution-building efforts, his incorruptibility, his insistence on transparency and the reforms he initiated in all arenas of Palestinian life--business, agriculture, security--have transformed the autonomous areas of the West Bank into an orderly, functional society. …