10 January 2010

The agony of Anshel Pfeffer and pikuach nefesh

Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent, gladly provided food for thought to so inclined readers. Especially to readers who up till now didn't have enough reasons to bash Israel, its uncouth manners, its security arrangements, its lack of refined "agonizing" over questions of morality, its everything, in short. The article in question is titled In Israel, racial profiling doesn't warrant debate, or apologies and raises the issue of Israeli security (particularly that of our main international airport) using what Anshel considers to be "racial profiling" in security screening of passengers.

Anshel is clearly tied up in knots over the issue. He doesn't feel good when he, being Jewish and Israeli citizen to boot is allowed to breeze through security checks and shop to his heart's content, while some others...

Let's admit it, there is a general acceptance of the fact that non-Jewish, especially Muslim, passengers will get a working-over and have to arrive at the airport three hours earlier than the rest of us.
Anshel has a solution for this glaring breach of equality too:
Of course, they could subject everyone to these inspections, but that would mean we couldn't progress quickly and smoothly from check-in to duty-free, and of course since it would mean hiring hundreds more security agents, ticket prices would go up.
Although, when he comes to think of it, this is not an ideal solution. Because of, you know, the time and money involved. Should I point out to Anshel the obvious: that hiring "hundreds more" security agents will create more chaos and increase the chance of a security breach? I am not sure Anshel, in his delirium of riding the high moral horse will be responsive to simple reasoning.

Besides, Anshel knows clearly what I, the ill-behaved and amoral Israeli, think about his conundrum:
Many Israelis have no problems with this: Let the Muslims suffer for the sins of their brothers.
And, of course, Anshel knows very well the difference between him and me, the moral chasm we'll be never able to cross:
But those of us who like to think of ourselves as liberal humanists find it too easy to ignore the sight of entire families having their luggage rummaged through in front of the entire terminal while we are waved through.
I wonder whether feeling ill at ease at the abovementioned sight interferes with Anshel's duty-free shopping?

I also wonder whether you, the reader, while being entranced by Anshel's suffering, have noticed the difference between the two Anshel's quotes above: "non-Jewish, especially Muslim, passengers" in the first and "Let the Muslims suffer" in the second? Quite a sleight of hand, I would say.

So, while being skeptical about my chances of reasoning with Anshel, I still feel that I have to use some straightforward reasoning. After all, who knows, Anshel could benefit from it.
  • To call the (granted) focus of security screening on Arab passengers "racial profiling" is a misnomer in case of Israel (at least), since we, the Jooz and Arabs, our cousins, are of the same Semitic origins.
  • Anshel doesn't quite understand the difference between "profiling" and "racial profiling". Or, as the case may be, he is too incensed to deal with details.
  • As Anshel himself points out, it is not only Arab passengers that are being put through the more intense screening. In many cases (and I was witness to quite a few) innocent looking WASPs and other obviously Western passengers are being scrutinized at the same level of intensity as their Arab brethren.
  • To claim that Western airport security are totally unaware and don't employ "racial" (according to Anshel) profiling is closing one's eyes to the obvious. Again, from personal experience: carrying an Israeli passport and looking definitely more dark-skinned than an average US passenger, I was so many times selected for what is euphemistically called by TSA folks "random additional checks" that Anshel's claim that "Neither the American administration nor its counterparts in other Western countries are willing to contemplate a system in which these citizens will be screened differently from their Christian, Jewish or atheist compatriots." doesn't hold a single drop of water. Or, in other words, it's just bullshit.
  • Nor does the statement "While governments and citizens of other democracies are dealing with the question of whether they are prepared to live with the chance that their principles and freedoms could lead to a bomber actually managing to activate their hidden device, in Israel that decision has been made for us long ago." hold any water. The said governments frequently organize pilgrimages of their security chiefs to Israel to learn how it's done and to "import" the methodology. So whatever Anshel wants to dream about "liberal humanism" of the West is again more of the same as above: bullshit. There are other reasons why Israeli security screening is not (yet) fully employed in the West, but this is neither the place nor the time to go into boring details.
  • Profiling (racial or not). Anshel, in his liberal humanist innocence may not be aware of this, but security screening includes many more layers than a simple "racial profiling". Again, this is not the place nor the time to go into details, but Anshel's attempt to present the security screening as "Arab - non-Arab" selection is stupid - if it's not intentional.
  • And now the most important issue, which is pikuach nefesh (saving of human life). "Pikuach nefesh (Hebrew: פיקוח נפש‎, "saving of human life") is the principle in Jewish law that the saving of a human life is paramount, overriding virtually any other religious consideration. When the life of a specific human being is in danger, almost any negative commandment of the Torah may be broken, with just three exceptions." Not being religious, I nevertheless deeply respect this principle. And here Anshel's own words come handy: "Since the 1972 Lod Airport massacre, in which 26 people were murdered, there have been no successful attacks on Israeli air-traffic..." Yep. You are right, Anshel, touch wood.
To conclude: there are two different kinds of agony. One, relatively brief, could be experienced by a passenger that survived the immediate impact of the blast caused by a terrorist, plunging for a few minutes the obligatory ten or eleven kilometers.

The second kind of agony that can accompany a liberal humanist for an indefinitely long time, is the agony that, according to Anshel, he is prevented from suffering by some sinister order from above (I guess so, since he doesn't say):
Does that mean that while the rest of the civilized world, to which we aspire to belong, are agonizing over these questions, we are exempt from any form of public debate?
Well, I've checked the matter of a special permit for Anshel, and am glad to inform you all that by a special decree from above Anshel is allowed to agonize as much and as long as he desires.

Agonize, Anshel, agonize...


snoopythegoon said...

He. So true, esp. when some Haaretz journos are concerned...