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I have dual Israeli citizenship and have flown to and from Tel Aviv quite a few times.

* The line interviewers are smart people, and it's seen as a good first job after military service. In other places this might be seen as a dead-end or undesirable job.

* The atmosphere in Ben Gurion is very calm because everyone feels safe (or at least I do).

* The only time I've seen any mild panic was due to my (late) great-aunt. She was a neurosurgeon, but could be alarmingly absent-minded in daily life. She'd taken my sister and I to the airport for our flight back to London, back when we were both in our teens. For some reason, my great aunt had a kind of small suitcase on wheels with her that day, and when my sister and I stood in the queue, she left it next to us and went off to find the bathroom. The line moved forwards and the suitcase didn't. The security guards spotted this fact within about 30 seconds, and started asking whose the bag was. We didn't realise it was my aunt's, and after nobody claimed it they started ushering us all back and making radio calls. When my aunt came back we all got an earful from the security staff.




When we were flying from SFO last year, we spotted an unattended suitcase in the check-in desk queue. Naturally, we told the nearest TSA agent. Imagine how shocked we were when he seemed totally disinterested. He told us someone had probably left it for a minute, and had we asked the people around? After some encouragement, he asked the people around and after finding no owner, picked it up and moved it out of the queue to the side, still in the main terminal.


If you were an Israeli Arab, do you think you'd feel the same way about the situation at Ben Gurion?


What situation? The one where everyone flies safely?

You might get a bit more attention as an Israeli Arab, or as a foreign national, but the profiling is mostly behavioural. They might have a look through your things, but then again they they gave my dad's luggage a load of attention on a recent trip and he's an air force veteran.

It's also more or less impossible to distinguish (visually) Israeli Arabs and Sephardim/Mizrahim. You're not going to get hassle for having darker skin. I've got a hunch you haven't been to Ben Gurion or Israel, but if you did and had a hard time then that's a shame and I hope you have a better trip at some point in the future.

(And siculars I'm not an Israeli Arab, but valid question. I don't want to clog this place up by discussing politics, so I'm leaving it here.)


BS. Rebuttal follows.

The screeners have no problem distinguishing Israeli Arabs and Sephardic Jews. 30 seconds of conversation -- if not simpler cues such as clothing -- will resolve any ambiguity.

Israeli Arabs might not always be hassled, but they are certainly lined up for "increased scrutiny" more often. A lot more often. I have enough friends who can attest to this experience.

I cannot count the number of times I've flown via TLV -- let's say that I've departed a few hundred times over the course of my life. How many times have I been taken aside for any kind of additional screening?

Zero. Never. Ever. Every time I have flown, I've received the abbreviated white-jew-boy questioning about my bags and whether they've been out of my sight. That's it. Nothing about me, ever. Obviously, they deem me to be inherently safe, else it would be wise to randomly subject me to extra screening once in a while.

Without getting into the advisability or ethics of racial profiling, we do it unabashedly in Israel, and that's a fact. Unlike the US, the threat profile is relatively narrow: Arabs and/or Muslims, and the one-time Japanese freelancers. Ergo, it makes practical sense to invest the majority of your screening resources in one place.

As harmless-looking, pasty-white, computer-geek Israeli Jews, we feel the touch of the security apparatus more lightly than everybody else. Don't let that fool you into thinking that everybody has it as good as we do.


Idan, I don't think you're really contradicting what I've written (especially with the Sephardic thing). I didn't deny that racial profiling took place at all, nor did I debate its merits or ethical status, I was asserting that it's not in any way the only factor. About your friends, it could be partly self-fulfilling. If they think they're going to be given extra treatment they might understandably act in a more nervous fasion, and as a result get flagged. However I'm just speculating here.

As a fellow pasty white computer geek I've had my bags looked at on a number of occasions and some equipment swabbed, same goes for relatives who live in Israel. A British-Asian friend of mine went on holiday to Israel this year and didn't get any hassle at the airport. This is all the data I have to go on. I'm not doubting your account at all, but neither is mine "BS".

(Anyway, didn't mean for that to sound so aggressive. Drop me an email and we can get a beer next time I visit and talk airports and code.)


As a brit I'd be more worried about them stealing my passport then giving me hassle directly :-)

(For those not aware: Israel got caught cloning passports of Brits travelling through their airports for identity theft purposes, despite the fact they had made an earlier promise not to do this again)


It beggars belief that the EU is allowing the transfer of it's citizens sensitive personal data there. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2010/1112/12242831...


Am I am saddened that I am no longer surprised that this is happening.


Don't get me wrong. I have no personal beef with you :)

Specific statements which I am refuting:

"but the profiling is mostly behavioural" - behavioral profiling is secondary to the racial stuff. At the end of the day, a screener here is more likely to forgive some quirky behavior on my part because I am white and Jewish. Obviously, I have no hard science with which to back up this claim. My anecdotal sampling of friends indicates that their skin color and racial origin played a pretty immediate part in their scrutiny, since they tend to be geeky and harmless just like me.

"It's also more or less impossible to distinguish (visually) Israeli Arabs and Sephardim/Mizrahim." - As I said in the post, this isn't true. Even if it were true strictly on a visual basis, there are other cues to go by beyond skin color. And regardless, the screeners know the difference as soon as a conversation begins -- so what's the point of this statement?

"You're not going to get hassle for having darker skin." - again, no way to directly prove/disprove, but my anecdotal friend-experience says otherwise.

You are correct about the self-fulfilling aspect; if I was an Israeli Arab flying out of TLV, I'd probably be worried that they're gonna gestapo me in a closed room. Particularly so if I know that I'm not any kind of terrorist, and have no fondness for interrogations.


"Gestapo me", "BS" - you seem pretty decisive. are you basing your comments on actual knowledge of the process or anecdotal evidence?

My personal impression from countless times of passing via TLV is that the profiling is mostly itinerary based. That is, Israeli citizen going off to a 3 day business trip to Europe is less suspect than an American tourist with a very short length of stay.

I know a middle aged WASP lady (pasty white, dignified, looks like someone who might be related to the Kennedys) who had to endure questioning because she fit the latter profile. Not really "gestapo", though - from what she told me it sounded better than the normal treatment non-US citizens get at Newark. Many of my Israeli family & friends are dark skinned, never had any trouble.

I'm not saying I know better, just that my anecdotal evidence doesn't match yours.

In any case, this isn't really applicable for the US. TLV gets much fewer visitors than JFK, and they tend to fit certain trip profiles - few people just go for a weekend in Tel Aviv, for example. Also, many in Israel itself are unhappy with the breach of their privacy, and my impression is that security procedure are actually moving to more reliance on machines than humans.


As another anecdote, I was questioned heavily going into Israel for the Birthright program (flying out of Miami on El Al). They actually confiscated my Nintendo DS because I didn't have a game to play for it in my bag. I also got a full physical pat down in a back office.

That said, the people were truly polite. If TSA employees were more tactful and friendly, that unpleasant potion might at least go down a little easier.


As far as i remember from another article. TSA personal is trained to be unfriendly, mainly to push you out of your comfort zone and see how you react to this kind of treatment.


Well, then, the TSA is doing an excellent job.


How was the pat-down compared to what the TSA has started doing? More or less thorough?


As thorough I'd say.

I don't think they really suspected me of anything, as a white Jewish kid, but I'm not very religious and maybe my answers to their religious questions while claiming Judaism as a religion was a red flag.


Isn't that how it is supposed to be, though?

I mean, apply some bayesian reasoning about the probability of someone being a terrorist _given that_ he looks like an Arab and/or is Muslim — and you won't be surprised some people are screened more thoroughly. Had the world evolved differently, they might be paying increased attention to white males with freckles and red hair.

The US for some reason likes to pretend that everyone is a terrorist with equal probability and avoids "racial profiling". This is kind of like sticking fingers in your ears and shouting loudly "can't hear you!".


Statistical reasoning and Bayesian in particular, is frequently misunderstood in spite of its simplicity. It is also preferred that Bayes be spelled in caps. Just for arguments sake, let us assume that an Arab lookalike is more likely to blow up a plane. (digression: I also amuse myself by trying to look like one before flying, at least to the TSO.)

The short answer to the source of the misunderstanding is that one usually forgets to take into account that there are far less Arab lookalikes than non Arab lookalikes. A common mistake is to go with the conditional probability rather than the posterior.

The probability that an Arab is a terrorist, strictly speaking, the empirical conditional probability is the number of Arab with an intent to blow up the plane divided by the total number of Arab in the population under consideration. For arguments sake let me agree with you that this is higher than the corresponding conditional probability for a non-Arab. Lets represent these quantities by pa and pb respectively.

The likelihood ratio that an Arab lookalike will blow up a plane is then (pa * Pa) / (pb * Pb) where Pa and Pb are the probabilities that a random sample from the population is an Arab vs non-Arab. What are known as the priors. Here we have Pb >> Pa.

In order to justify that Arabs be selectively screened it is necessary that

   pa > ( pb * Pb )/(Pa). 
This becomes equivalent to the condition pa > pb when Pb = Pa.

So I suspect that if anyone is sticking fingers in your ears and shouting loudly "can't hear you!". isnt quite, as you put it, "The US".

There are other issues:

It is hard to argue that pa is indeed greater than pb, i.e. for random samples of equal size there would be more terrorists in the Arab sample than not. Its quite a radical statement and justifications should have been mandatory.

Also I disagree with your assertion that "Had the world evolved differently,..." things would have been different. My counterexample is that the Irish or the Catholics in US were not subjected to any of this on flights to Britain when the IRA were bombing away innocent civilians there. BTW this is not the only counterexample.(I also suspect that O'reilly's over the top assertion that terrorist = Muslim is a compensatory mechanism, conscious or unconscious I do not know.)

The logical explanation for the way the security response is playing out in the field of travel seems to be that people are afraid of unfamiliar people and all it takes to tone down that fear is just some superficial familiarity (such as skin tone).

So I am hopeful that this stage too will pass. Sooner the better, and I hope with no permanent scars.


I think you're missing something. The fact that you fly so frequently probably means you require less security. They've dealt with you so many times already and probably know a lot about you. Before you even get to the airport all these things are evaluated. Your digital profile plays a big role, it's not jst about what you look like.


How do you know s/he is not an Israeli Arab?


I also have dual citizenship and lived in Israel for 6 years.

The point about smart people & this being an attractive first job is a key one. It's also well-compensated and looks good on people's CV's. No one is looking at this as a career.

The other thing is that Israelis have more common sense about security than Americans do. We're used to having our bags checked at the movie theater and the mall and no one grumbles about it. We also don't leave bags unattended and report the ones we do see.




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