Israel's Ambassador to Panama has slammed the country's Ben Gurion Airport for "racially profiling" him and his family after they were discovered to be Druze in security procedures which "make him sick".
Reda Mansour is an Israeli diplomat from Isfiya, a Druze village located on Mount Carmel, south of Haifa, who has served as Israel's ambassador to Panama since 2018. There are approximately 143,000 Druze in Israel, who are recognised as an ethno-religious community and live mainly in the north of the country, particularly around Haifa and in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
This weekend Mansour was flying to Panama when he was pulled aside by Israeli airport authorities, who then questioned him and his family. Mansour claimed that as soon as he drove into the airport entrance, a security guard asked the name of his home town. When he replied he was told to pull over, while Mansour, his wife and two daughters were told to present their passports and identify themselves.
Mansour took to Facebook to describe the incident: "During the night, I thought to myself while on the plane: Go to hell Ben-Gurion Airport. 30 years of humiliation and you are still not done. In the past, you would beat us at the terminal, today you've progressed to treating us as suspects at the checkpoint, at the entrance."
Mansour also pointed out the hypocrisy of treating Israeli-Druze as suspects given their long history of loyalty to the state and completion of military service: "Isfiya is not a town in the [occupied Palestinian] territories, but a home to the main military cemetery for fallen Druze soldiers who died during their service in the [Israeli army]."
"I advise that you take your security guards and those in charge of their training to visit this cemetery and teach them about self-sacrifice and respect. Until then, I have only this to tell you: You make me sick," Mansour wrote.
A spokesman for the Israel Airports Authority issued what the Times of Israel described as a "biting response", stressing that security checks are carried out "regardless of religion, race or gender" and quipping "when you meet more than 25 million travelers each year, there will be some who will choose to be insulted by their meeting with the security guard who is only doing her job."
However, the Israeli establishment has been quick to try to contain the fallout from the incident, with Israel's Foreign Ministry yesterday saying in a statement that it was reviewing Mansour's claims and was in contact with both the ambassador and the Israel Airports Authority.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also issued a statement, saying that he had spoken to Mansour and has "great appreciation for the way he represents the State of Israel in Panama".
"The Druze community is dear to our hearts and we would continue to act in every way to strengthen the brotherly bond with them," Netanyahu added.
Meanwhile, Israel's President Reuven Rivlin also waded into the incident, saying of Mansour that "what matters is what you feel, and if you felt so hurt, then we have to give it due consideration." The president also echoed Netanyahu's praise of the Druze community, saying "the alliance between us and the Druze is an alliance built in life, not just in death. We need to make sure we keep building it every day, every hour, and not just in times of crisis and battle."
However, opposition figures slammed the incident as indicative of the treatment regularly experienced by minorities within Israel, whether Druze or Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Newly-appointed leader of left-wing party Meretz, Nitzan Horowitz, stressed in a statement that "Ambassador Mansour is not alone. The Netanyahu regime brands first and second-class citizens."
Horowitz's comments echo a criticism often expressed by Druze and Palestinian citizens of Israel, particularly in the wake of the Nation-State Law passed last July. The law declared Israel the "national home of the Jewish people" in which "the right to exercise national self-determination […] is unique to the Jewish people", effectively declaring its non-Jewish minorities second-class citizens.
Leaders of the Druze community-led protests against the law, calling it a "stab in the back and betrayal [of] the sacrifices made by Druze". Despite attempts by Netanyahu to appease the Druze with new legislation recognising their "contribution" to Israel, protests continued throughout the summer, with tens of thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets of Tel Aviv to express their solidarity with the community.
Mansour's experience this weekend will likely re-open old wounds, anger Netanyahu will be keen to avoid as Israel heads to its second election in a year on 17 September. In April's election Druze support for Netanyahu's Likud party dropped significantly in protest at the Nation-State Law, seeing the community instead vote for Netanyahu's main rival, Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) and Meretz.