Could Israeli Airport Security Work Here?

Allison Kaplan Sommer and Michael Totten both have thoughts on why theirs works better than ours, and whether or not we can adopt some elements of the Israel approach.


Israelis won’t settle for “a fair chance.” But traditionally, in Israel, when it comes to the inevitable tension between civil liberties and national security, it’s security that wins out, and legal challenges to airport profiling have been generally unsuccessful in changing the reality on the ground. This could change following Israel’s Association for Civil Rights petitioning the Supreme Court to outlaw “racist, humiliating airport checks against Arab citizens” — but the odds are slim.

The question is whether the time has come when a large and powerful democracy like the U.S. must take a page from the playbook of the small and vulnerable Israel.

Resistance to adopting the Israeli model in the U.S. is understandable. The idea of subjecting profiled airline passengers to Israeli-style intensive questioning in the U.S. may not seem pretty.

But then again, the idea of every airline passenger in the U.S. being physically searched as a potential crotch bomber is even more unappealing. Taking account of our footwear before flying is one thing. Being forced to contemplate our choice of underwear is quite another.

And Totten, who, because he interviews Hezbollah-types, has been on the short end of the stick going through Ben-Gurion:

The United States need not and should not import the Israeli system. It’s labor intensive, slow, and at times incredibly aggravating. Americans wouldn’t put up with it, and it wouldn’t scale well. The one thing we can and should learn from the Israelis, though, is that we need to pay as much attention to who gets on airplanes as to what they’re bringing on board.

The TSA’s whole mindset is wrong. Its agents confiscate things, even harmless things, and they apply additional scrutiny to things carried by people selected at random. If they were also tasked with looking for dangerous people, they would rightly ease up on grandmothers and senators, and they’d have a competently compiled list in the computer of those who are known to be dangerous. And if some kind of broad profiling means I’ll have to suffer the indignity of being frisked while the nun in line behind me does not, it’s no worse, really, than the embarrassment and contempt I’ll feel if the nun gets frisked instead.

There’s another problem with the sort of profiling in the US.  At least one of the would-be bombers in the US this summer, the one who wanted to blow up a Federal building in Indiana, was a convert.  Indeed, converts to Islam seem to comprise a vastly disproportionate number of radicals in the West.  And since converts can come from any race, and we don’t ask people about their religions, profiling would be much harder here in a nation of nations.

Read ’em both, though.

Still, Libertarians and isolationists (and there’s more overlap there than is comfortable) should consider that the less aggressive we are overseas, the more invasive we’ll have to be here at home.

  1. No comments yet.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  1. No trackbacks yet.