Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Third Israeli is Booted from Plane; ‘it’s Not an Epidemic,’ Official Says

August 13, 2002
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The airlines are not singling out Israelis as security risks, Israeli officials say, despite several recent incidents in which Israeli representatives were removed from airplanes for security reasons.

“It’s really not something that has become an epidemic at all,” said Adina Kay, a spokeswoman at the Israeli Consulate in New York.

In the latest incident last Friday, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Rabbi Michael Melchior, and an aide were asked to leave a Comair flight from Cincinnati to Toronto that they had just boarded.

According to airline and Israeli officials, Melchior’s aide was traveling with a weapon, but lacked the paperwork to carry a firearm onboard. When the pilot raised concerns, Melchior and the aide were taken off the plane and placed on a later flight.

Kay called the incident a “case of miscommunication that was eventually resolved.”

A spokeswoman for Comair, a Delta Airlines subsidiary, had no additional comment.

Last month, Israel’s consul general in New York, Alon Pinkas, was prevented from boarding a National Airlines plane in San Francisco when the pilot said he did not want a dignitary on his flight for safety reasons.

Municipal and airline officials tried to sway the pilot, but he did not relent. Pinkas and his wife were forced to find another way back to New York.

Shortly afterward, Pinkas told the New York media that he did not believe he was targeted because of anti-Semitism or an anti-Israel bias.

A security guard for Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres also was removed from a U.S. flight recently because of security concerns.

Despite these incidents, Israeli officials say they don’t sense a backlash against Israelis traveling on U.S. airlines.

Instead, they see the incidents as isolated results of the expanded security procedures all Americans are facing in light of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Many Arab passengers also say they have been targeted for searches since Sept. 11.

The link between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and terrorism — not to mention the July 4 shooting at El Al’s ticket counter in Los Angeles International Airport — could make fellow travelers and crew members wary of flying with Israeli officials.

“We understand fully the heightened sense of security and the need to beef up security on airlines,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington. “Obviously, all security checks can inconvenience people and we understand that.”

Still, he added, “to see the deputy foreign minister of Israel as a security threat is a bit strange.”

Over the weekend, Melchior told Israel Radio that he felt Israeli diplomats were being singled out, an act that he called “intolerable,” according to The Associated Press.

Kay said Israeli officials in the United States often travel with a security detail, which can set up “irrational panic” among the flight crew. She said an Israeli security agent often arrives ahead of time to alert airline staff that a government official will be flying, but she believes that also can make the staff more nervous.

A State Department official said airline incidents are “happening to all diplomatic officials,” not just Israelis, and that the number of incidents involving Israeli officials may in part be due to the large number of Israeli delegations traveling in the United States.

The official said it is unclear how the State Department will address this growing problem, but that each incident is being handled as it arises.

Recommended from JTA