U.S. scholar backs out of Israel trip after consulate assigns her ‘subordinate’ status due to birth in Pakistan

Israel/Palestine
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Kavita Khoury
Professor Kavita Khory

More evidence if any were needed of the racially-discriminatory policies of Israeli border authorities. Last spring, Kavita Khory, a Professor of Political Science at Mount Holyoke College, signed up for a one-week, all expenses paid tour of Israel for scholars of international relations aimed at providing a “deeper understanding” of the politics of the area. The trip of a dozen scholars was sponsored by Combined Jewish Philanthropies.

Well Khory got a deeper understanding. She didn’t end up going because of the way Israel treated her prospectively, on account of her having been born in Pakistan. And Congress is thinking of extending no-visa privileges to Israelis seeking to come to the U.S.?

From Khory’s account, at Duck of Minerva.

A week before our departure, the CJP informed me that I (the only member of the group and a US citizen) would need to carry a separate identification document at all times—a “card” certifying that I had been “prescreened” by the Israeli Consulate in Boston.  While “technically traveling with a U.S. passport is sufficient in Israel,” additional documentation, I was told, would ensure a “smooth” trip.

As I began reading the consular official’s questions, I realized that the only issue was my place of birth—Pakistan.  Because of the circumstances of my birth, over which I had no control, I was being singled out for “special” treatment that did not in any way make me feel confident about my own safety and security while traveling in Israel.

The assumption that individuals with any connection to Pakistan would immediately be seen as a potential threat is infuriating.  Equally if not more troubling, the Israeli government, as I discovered, employs a two-tier system to screen U.S. citizens.

I no longer felt I was part of a group of my peers, having already been assigned a different—and subordinate—status without any regard for my professional accomplishments, which I assumed was the reason I was invited in the first place.

I couldn’t choose my place of birth, but I could choose not to acquiesce to the Israeli government’s discriminatory practices toward U.S. citizens.  So after mulling it over for a day or so, I decided against traveling to Israel and declined the CJP’s invitation…

What is our professional responsibility when colleagues are treated differently because of national or ethnic origin?  How should we respond when faced with such examples of exclusion and discrimination?

P.S. Khory clarified a point implicit in her original post, in correspondence with me:

I was the only member of a group of 12 faculty asked to fill out the additional paperwork and carry another ID along with my passport.  I think if I had known about this earlier in the process, I would have simply declined the invitation.  As I said in the piece, it was a personal decision not to go.  Others might have reacted differently.  Another colleague who went on the trip this year, had a good experience, so I would not discourage anyone from going in the future. 

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