On 15 April 2012, Horia Ankour, 30, a French nursing student, boarded Air France flight 4384 from Nice to Tel Aviv. She was traveling as part of a solidarity initiative called “Welcome to Palestine.”
Just minutes before the aircraft was scheduled to take off, a cabin attendant approached Ms. Ankour, took her to a corner and asked her whether she had an Israeli passport. When Ankour answered “no,” the cabin attendant demanded to know whether she was Jewish. When she also answered negatively, Ankour was thrown off the flight.
Ankour was given a written statement from Air France documenting the incident and confirming that the questions were asked at the direct behest of Israeli authorities.
“Today they ask you if you’re Jewish, tomorrow if you’re Muslim…”
Today a court in the Paris suburb of Bobigny found Air France guilty of illegal discrimination against Ankour and fined the airline 10,000 euros ($13,000) in damages and another 3,000 euros ($3,900) in costs.
“The court declares Air France guilty of the crime of discrimination,” Judge Nabila Mani-Saada said in her ruling.
“We cannot tolerate this kind of conduct on our territory,” state prosecutor Abdelkrim Grini had said during the trial. “Today they ask you if you’re Jewish, tomorrow if you’re Muslim, after tomorrow if you’re homosexual or a trade unionist.”
Fabrice Pradon, the lawyer for Air France, had told the court that the demand to ask Ankour the questions about her religion had come “directly from Israeli authorities.”
Several other airlines were complicit in Israel’s effort to stop the Welcome to Palestine initiative by barring passengers on Israeli orders.
Israeli “airline security” a front for Shin Bet secret police
The incident is reminiscent of a row that broke out between Israel and South Africa in 2009 after Jonathan Garb, a former security official with the Israeli airline El Al told the South African investigative television program Carte Blanche that the airline’s security had been a front for Israel’s Shin Bet secret police for years and that it used explicitly racist tactics against black and Muslim travelers at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport.
“What we are trained is to look for the immediate threat – the Muslim guy,” Garb claimed. “The crazy thing is that we are profiling people racially, ethnically and even on religious grounds … This is what we do.”
After Carte Blanche sent in an undercover reporter whose experience confirmed the differential and unconstitutional treatment of Muslims, South Africa protested to Israel and deported an El Al security official.
While it is unclear whether French authorities will take similar steps to prevent Israel from exporting its racism onto French territory, it appears that it is still possible for citizens like Horia Ankour to receive vindication in French courts.