Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Israel's Shin Bet Detains High-Profile Figures


Israel's attorney general is looking into why Shin Bet security agents have detained a series of people for seemingly political reasons - progressive American journalist Peter Beinart, activist Simone Zimmerman and Iranian-American author and CNN contributor Reza Aslan. All have criticized Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories. All have been questioned at airports or border crossings in recent weeks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Beinart's detention an administrative mistake, amid accusations that there is a blacklist for left-wing activists. Joining us now is Israeli-American author Moriel Rothman-Zecher, who was also questioned last month. Welcome.

MORIEL ROTHMAN-ZECHER: Thank you for having me on.

LUDDEN: So why did the agents say they pulled you aside? And what did they ask you?

ROTHMAN-ZECHER: So at first, they didn't tell me why I was there. They asked me all sorts of questions about my biography, where I lived, what I did during my days. And then they started asking me about left-wing organizations. They asked me about an anti-occupation collective called All That's Left. He said you're not accused of anything or suspected of anything. You know, you can go to one of these actions put on by these groups that are legitimate and legal and nonviolent. But I wanted to warn you - just think about this as a warning conversation.

LUDDEN: You know, I mean, Israel has long been known for, you know, aggressive security measures. Are these questions new? Are these detentions really new?

ROTHMAN-ZECHER: I've never, ever been pulled over at the airport before. So I've long been involved in nonviolent activism and critique of the occupation. My book deals with subjects of occupation and violence. But I've never been pulled over at the airport. And I think what was new about this for me is there was no security issue. They never mentioned security. They never said I was suspected of a crime. They never said I was suspected of being a threat. But essentially it felt like a political conversation - a political interrogation in which they wanted to warn me about the slippery slope involved in being part of these left-wing organizations.

LUDDEN: You're not the only one who's been questioned like this recently. Have you been in touch with others who've also been detained?

ROTHMAN-ZECHER: I have. And I think what's important to emphasise here is that these stories are things that happen to Palestinians all the time - regularly, constantly and much worse at the airport, at the borders. So I don't think that issue here is that there's a new sort of level of immorality or a new level of injustice - just that this model of injustice that has long been applied to Palestinians and to Arabs and to other, quote, unquote, "unwanted visitors" is now being applied to Jewish-Israelis and Jewish-Americans who dissent and who are involved in activism and action against inequality and occupation and injustice.

LUDDEN: And what do you think the point would be?

ROTHMAN-ZECHER: I think intimidation. It is scary. It's scary to be separated from your family at the border. It's scary to be called back into a backroom. And even though, you know, I was never threatened in the interview, and I was never, you know, yelled at or hurt or anything like that, it's frightening to feel that you're being singled out for your political activism, for your political views.

LUDDEN: You're currently in the U.S. and traveling back to Israel this weekend. Are you worried you'll get detained again?

ROTHMAN-ZECHER: I'm not sure. I honestly have no idea what's going to happen. I was surprised when it happened three weeks ago. And I'm traveling back there on Sunday. I think I'm sort of prepared for anything to happen - either to sort of breeze through the airport, with my sort of usual privileged approach as has happened in the past, or perhaps I'll be pulled off to a side room and questioned again. I don't know. But, yeah, I am afraid.

LUDDEN: Author Moriel Rothman-Zecher, thank you so much for joining us.

ROTHMAN-ZECHER: Thank you so much for having me on.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOONORTH'S "LOST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.