The Israelification of America

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As the Transportation Security Administration faces a barrage of criticism, some indignant Americans are calling for the “Israelification” of US airports — as though the security procedures used in a tiny Middle Eastern ethnocracy with one international airport could easily be scaled up for America.

Ironically, Israelification is not what we need — it’s what we already have.

Consider the real outrages of the last decade that, simply because they were done in the name of national security, the majority of Americans found tolerable:

  • a global war on terrorism that led to massive increases in defense spending, the creation of multiple new intelligence and security agencies, and Washington’s enslavement to fear-based politics — that was OK;
  • with disregard for international law, the invasion of Iraq on a false pretext — that was OK;
  • the kidnapping, secret imprisonment and torture of individuals most of whom had nothing to do with 9/11 — that was OK;
  • the authorization of warrantless wiretaps — that was OK;
  • the implementation of a remote-controlled assassination program — that was OK;
  • in short, the normalization of war crimes all of which were deemed justifiable because of 9/11 — that was OK;
  • but “don’t touch my junk” — there are limits to what Americans will tolerate.

TSA administrators are no doubt frustrated by the fact that had the new pat-down procedures been implemented in late 2001, they would probably have been welcomed by a population that widely supported the idea of doing “whatever it takes” to stop “the terrorists.”

The problem, then and now, is that air transportation security is imagined to be about catching terrorists. On this count, the TSA seems to have a poor record.

At Slate, Juliet Lapidos notes:

In May, the Government Accountability Office released a report noting that SPOT’s [“Screening of Passengers by Observational Techniques”] annual cost is more than $200 million and that as of March 2010 some 3,000 behavior detection officers [BDOs] were deployed at 161 airports but had not apprehended a single terrorist. (Hundreds of illegal aliens and drug smugglers, however, were arrested due to the program between 2004 and 2008.) What’s more, the GAO noted that at least 16 individuals later accused of involvement in terrorist plots flew 23 different times through U.S. airports since 2004, but TSA behavior-detection officers didn’t sniff out any of them.

Does this imply that the TSA’s BDOs have yet to pinpoint the way a terrorist walks, talks, or dresses? The TSA’s “failure” in this instance might simply mean that the individuals who escaped their attention were not at those times actually doing anything suspicious.

The point is, there are justifiable and unjustifiable grounds to turn a person into an object of suspicion. A system that simply on the basis of religion, ethnicity or nationality, regards a person with suspicion, is unjust and will be ineffective. Indeed, a system which even regards its targets as “the terrorists” conjures up the false notion that it is dealing with a class of people rather than a class of behavior.

Which brings me back to my initial claim that the Israelification of America is already deeply entrenched. Israel’s fear of the Arab world has been transplanted into American consciousness to such a degree that we are moving toward the absurd conclusion that if this country operated even more like Israel than it already does, then we would be able to feel as safe as the Israelis do.

Living inside a fortress and defining ones existence in terms of threats posed by eternal enemies, is a good way of justifying spending more and more on increasingly elaborate fortifications. But those who invest deeply in this mindset and who profit from its perpetuation, have the least interest in exploring what we need to understand most: why our enemies think the way they do. Delve into that question, and the notion of eternal enmity quickly evaporates — thus the perpetuation of the myth that we are under threat not because of what we do but because of who we are.

Meanwhile, next time a TSA officer offends your dignity, spare a thought for the Palestinians who while passing through IDF checkpoints suffer vastly worse when attempting no more than to travel from one town to the next.

This is cross-posted at Woodward’s site, War in Context.

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