Has the Shin Bet Infiltrated International Airports?
South Africa deported an Israeli airline official last week following allegations that Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet, had infiltrated Johannesburg international airport in an effort to gather information on South African citizens, particularly black and Muslim travellers.
The move by the South African government followed an investigation by local TV showing an undercover reporter being illegally interrogated by an official with El Al, Israel’s national carrier, in a public area of Johannesburg’s OR Tambo airport.
The programme also featured testimony from Jonathan Garb, a former El Al guard, who claimed that the airline company had been a front for the Shin Bet in South Africa for many years.
Of the footage of the undercover reporter’s questioning, he commented: “Here is a secret service operating above the law in South Africa. We pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. We do exactly what we want. The local authorities do not know what we are doing.”
The Israeli foreign ministry is reported to have sent a team to South Africa to try to defuse the diplomatic crisis after the government in Johannesburg threatened to deport all of El Al’s security staff.
Mr Garb’s accusations have been supported by an investigation by the regulator for South Africa’s private security industries.
They have also been confirmed by human rights groups in Israel, which report that Israeli security staff are carrying out racial profiling at many airports around the world, apparently out of sight of local authorities.
Concern in South Africa about the activities of El Al staff has been growing since August, when South Africa’s leading investigative news show, Carte Blanche, went undercover to test Mr Garb’s allegations.
A hidden camera captured an El Al official in the departure hall claiming to be from “airport security” and demanding that the undercover reporter hand over his passport or ID as part of “airport regulations”. When the reporter protested that he was not flying but waiting for a friend, El Al’s security manager, identified as Golan Rice, arrived to interrogate him further. Mr Rice then warned him that he was in a restricted area and must leave.
Mr Garb commented on the show: “What we are trained is to look for the immediate threat – the Muslim guy. You can think he is a suicide bomber, he is collecting information. The crazy thing is that we are profiling people racially, ethnically and even on religious grounds … This is what we do.”
Mr Garb and two other fired workers have told the South African media that Shin Bet agents routinely detain Muslim and black passengers, a claim that has ignited controversy in a society still suffering with the legacy of decades of apartheid rule.
Suspect individuals, the former workers say, are held in an annex room, where they are interrogated, often on matters unrelated to airport security, and can be subjected to strip searches while their luggage is taken apart. Clandestine searches of their belongings and laptops are also carried out to identify useful documents and information.
All of this is done in violation of South African law, which authorises only the police, armed forces or personnel appointed by the transport minister to carry out searches. Full Story