Arab Israeli diplomat says security guards choked him

JERUSALEM (AP) — An Arab Israeli diplomat once deployed abroad to push back against Israel’s critics said he was beaten by security guards at Jerusalem’s central bus station last week in what he believes was a case of ethnic profiling.

Ishmael Khaldi, 49, said he has filed a police complaint and is going public with his experience to bring attention to what he described as racist behaviour in parts of Israeli society.

“This is wrong. This has to stop. This is nothing Israeli,” he said, adding that he remains patriotic and proudly serves his country.

The incident trained a spotlight on the ongoing struggles of Israel’s Arab citizens, a large minority that makes up about 20 per cent of the population. Israel’s Arab citizens have the right to vote and some have enjoyed great success in Israel’s judiciary, civil service and business, medical and entertainment worlds. But they still frequently suffer from discrimination.

Khaldi is widely touted by the government as a success story. From living in a tent and working as a shepherd when he was a boy, he became the first member of Israel’s tiny Bedouin Arab community to serve as a diplomat and is among a small number of Arab Israelis to rise to the senior levels of the Foreign Ministry. He served in Israel’s Consulate in San Francisco, was an adviser to then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and defended Israel against the Palestinian-led boycott movement while posted in London.

Ishmael Khaldi. PHOTO: AP

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign advocates boycotts of Israeli institutions to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, including its own Arab citizenry. He also has done temporary assignments in Africa and Miami.

But even his advocacy work for Israel and a distinguished career that has put him alongside many Israeli leaders have not been enough to insulate him from the struggles faced by Arab Israelis.

He said his dark skin frequently attracts the attention of jittery security guards in public spaces and that “there is no doubt” this was why he was stopped by two guards and asked to pass through a metal detector when he entered the bus station last Thursday, on his way home from work.

“It happens to me. It happens to everyone” with Arab features, he said. But what happened after that, he said, was a “series of mistakes” by security guards unlike anything he had seen before.

After he was stopped, one of the guards stepped away. Khaldi, who said he frequently takes photos and video clips on his phone, said he asked the remaining security guard if he could turn on his phone to record. He promised not to take any pictures of the guard, and he said the guard consented.

When he walked through the metal detector, the machine beeped and he was instructed to empty his pockets. He put down his wallet and keys but continued to record on his phone for several seconds. Then, as he was about to put the phone down, he said the second security guard returned to the scene and became irate.

“He came like crazy, screaming shouting: ‘Put the phone down! Don’t take pictures!’” Khaldi said.

He said he tried to calm the security guard down, but he only became angrier. First, he threatened to push Khaldi against a wall. Then he threatened to push him onto the ground.

“He was saying, ‘Do you want to see?’ And I said, ‘Yes. I want to see’.” Khaldi said.

Within seconds, he said he was pinned down by three guards, with the angry leader placing his leg on Khaldi’s neck, shoulder and ear. He said the pressure was so strong he feared his neck would break.

“I screamed ‘I can’t breathe. I can’t move’,” he said. The guards eased up on him after bystanders started screaming, but then a supervisor rushed to the scene and joined the others in holding him down. Eventually, they allowed Khaldi, covered in dust, to get up while they held him until police arrived.