The saga of the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent

JVL Introduction

On 4th January Haaretz carried an article by Noa Landau on how Israel manages entries and exits at its borders.

As is well known to anyone who has ever visited Israel, security checks and intrusive questioning and searching is the order of the day.

Despite past criticism, it remains so through the change of government, the folding of the Strategic Affairs Ministry  into the Foreign Ministry, and the very limited travel anyway because of covid-19.

And, as Landau points out almost in passing, the latest person to fall foul of the regime is none other than the Guardian’s recently appointed Jerusalem correspondent, Bethan McKernan.

It appears there were “security concerns” because she has a partner whose name is Mohammed!

The Guardian, clearly not wanting to rock the boat, has not even bothered reporting the story, leaving it to Haaretz to follow up.

And they do so with an explosive conversation with the deputy CEO of El al, reported verbatim below!

Enjoy reading.

Welcome to Tel Aviv! Oh, Hold On, Your Partner’s Name Is Mohammed?

Noa Landau, Haaretz 4th January 2022

A lively debate has been going on, across the pages of Haaretz and elsewhere, among certain circles concerned with Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. The conversation is focused on the extent to which Arabic is present in the public sphere. Ron Gerlitz, the former co-CEO of the NGO Sikkuy – The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, has repeatedly claimed that he believes there is a “revolution” underway in this matter. One of his standard proofs is the addition of Arabic to the welcome sign at Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Without getting into the intricacies of the argument over the effacement of Arabic in Israel, this recurring example from Ben-Gurion Airport bothers me on a different level. The campaign for adding these words, achieved thanks to the efforts of Sikkuy, is welcome and important. I’m not being cynical, it really is. I don’t belittle the place of symbols. However, the gap between this festive greeting, now happily adorning an airport wall, and the manner in which Israel manages exits and entries across its borders, is disturbing.

Several agencies share responsibility for problems in this area. There is the questioning and security checks, often invasive and humiliating, which Arab citizens, Palestinians or foreigners have to go through whenever they enter or leave the country.

Some of these procedures are the responsibility of El Al, Israel’s national carrier, while others are the responsibility of the Israel Airport Authority. The Shin Bet security service obviously provides guidance to both.

The denial of entry to Palestinians and foreigners, frequently for political reasons, also deserves highlighting. The responsibility for this policy, despite headlines in recent years focusing on the Strategic Affairs Ministry, lies with the Shin Bet and the Population, Immigration and Border Authority.

The very scant travel by foreigners or Israeli citizens since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis could allow one to wrongly assume that some positive changes have been made to this policy. The closure of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which was effectively folded into the Foreign Ministry, also contributed to a dwindling of the debate on these issues. But the truth is that in this area too, the “government of change” has not brought about any actual change. The conduct at our borders remains the same.

Late last month, for example, entry was denied to two researchers because they had planned to meet, among others, research fellows at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank. They were put through a prolonged and aggressive questioning process, which included searching their mobile phones.

This month, a British citizen was detained for three-and-a-half hours at the airport after visiting his Arab partner from the northern part of the country. His phone was also taken.

On Sunday, the Guardian correspondent in Jerusalem, Bethan McKernan, received similar treatment from El Al. She has an Israeli journalist visa and an official GPO card, but when she tried to return to Israel from a private visit to the Netherlands, she was questioned, separated from her belongings and taken aside for a full physical search. In the end, her plane left the tarmac without her, forcing her to look for another flight. El Al, is of course, “so sorry” this time as well, quoting vague security considerations that are supposedly out of their hands.

“By the way, do you know the Guardian’s coverage of Israel is very aggressive?” a senior El Al official asked me, to which I answered: Post your opinion of them on Twitter, it has nothing to do with the case.

When I wrote in 2018 about the case of Lara Alqasem, an American student who was detained and denied entry into Israel for being an activist in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, Meretz legislators were the ones leading the campaign for her release and entry into the country.

Tamar Zandberg, Esawi Freige, Mossi Raz and Michal Rozin were always at the forefront of opposition to the evil spirits blowing at our borders. Now, with two of them serving as cabinet members, it doesn’t seem as if they’re trying to achieve the necessary changes to prevent such a fiasco from happening again. Never mind, at least there’s a sign in Arabic welcoming those who are granted permission to enter.

How Could El Al Detain a Reporter and Search Her Phone? ‘Shin Bet Told Me Not to Talk About It’

We asked an El Al executive to explain an incident in which Guardian reporter Bethan McKernan was forced to miss her flight to the Netherlands due an invasive security check because her boyfriend’s name is Mohammed

Nir Gontarz, Haaretz, 7th January 2022

Hello to El Al’s deputy CEO and company headquarters chief, Shlomi Am-Shalom. Nir Gontarz here, a journalist with Haaretz. How are you?

Fine. I know the name.

I’m calling about Bethan McKernan, the Guardian’s correspondent in Jerusalem, who was delayed [see story above] at Ben-Gurion Airport ahead of an El Al flight [on January 2], and had her phone poked into, and finally the flight to Holland left without her. Please tell me what happened, exactly.

I’m ready to speak to you off the record, based on the preliminary update I received. There’s some sort of security matter there, a suspicion that aroused the suspicion of…

What do you mean, off the record? Are there state secrets involved here?

No. I was asked to… Look… On this matter of security, they tell me what to say and what not.

Who are “they”?

The Shin Bet [security service]. It’s not me.

Then why off the record?

I’m explaining to you that it told me not to talk about it. Do you want me to breach the laws of the body that instructs me?

We won’t talk off the record. We’re talking on the record. And tell me only what you can.

It’s not actually El Al. They are a body that has the… they are instructed by the Shin Bet. They are recruited and they are loaned to El Al. El Al Security is not a body that belongs to El Al. It’s a body [to] which the state gives a budget of a billion shekels [currently about $320 million] every year to secure civil aviation.

Many years ago, I began the course for selectors [security personnel at Ben-Gurion Airport]. Guess why they booted me out, even though I was outstanding.

How would I know?

Because I had a prominent tattoo. Today many of them have are tattoos. Back then that was unprecedented. I was compensated for it.

I wasn’t told everything about the event here. I was told something that slightly arouses in me, as an Israeli citizen, some concern, that event, without my being able to tell you about it.

Yes. It truly arouses concern. McKernan has a boyfriend named Mohammed, in Holland.

I don’t know. Apparently you know about it. You know part of it. They may know more about the partner, and they know more about what she does and what she’s involved in, and that is the response they asked me to give. She is angry at El Al. She is not angry at the Shin Bet. They don’t have a problem. I have a problem when she writes [in a tweet] that it’s “the last El Al experience [for her].” I have to fix that. First of all, they will complete the investigation.

They went through her phone. She missed the flight.

True. True.

What’s that all about, going through a journalist’s phone without a court order?

It’s not like they went through the phone to look for journalistic sources and now they will disseminate it. You ask whether they did it with permission and authority? I am ready to look into that question. They claim that there was also an attempt at a provocation, and I’m telling you this off the record, because I don’t want…

Don’t say anything off the record, and don’t reveal secrets to me!

She recorded them! I’m not telling you secrets. They just don’t want to say.

Recording is a provocation?

I don’t know. You know better than I, it seems.

You just said it. It’s not a provocation.

Okay. All right. So you don’t see it as a provocation. They do see it [like that]. It’s not El Al employees who did it!

When they behave like that to a foreign correspondent…

It’s a hasbara [Israeli public relations] and media blow. I understand.

Can’t you say anything regarding the Shin Bet? The selector can’t say that he…

The selector is also from the Shin Bet. He’s not an El Al employee. He is found and recruited by the security branch. He is not an El Al employee. I don’t know him. You say that the whole conversation is on the record. I intend to speak with the correspondent and meet with her. It’s worth our while to learn.

What good will it do you to meet with her if, as you say, things are not in your control?

I could have, if they’d involved me, delayed the flight until they completed the check. In real time, they don’t know how long [the security check] it’s going to take. I feel really uncomfortable, because you tell me this is all on the record.


Let’s stop here. It’s not fair. I’m squirming. I’m asking [you] not to write anything I’ve said. Let’s finish the conversation. We are not in an interview. We are waiting for the results of the investigation.

Who is conducting the investigation?

I don’t want to answer. The security branch, and they will present [it], and if there is anything to learn – we will learn together. I don’t think it’s right that tomorrow we will find that I am arguing with the security branch through you. I am not answering another question except off the record, and then we can decide together what you’re going to write.

That won’t happen.

An off-the-record conversation is an existing format.

I don’t make use of it.

I ask that you write nothing.

I will write what you said.

You will not write what I said! And I will go to the editor of Haaretz! I am not giving an interview.

I will write what you said.

What did I say?

What you said. I am citing what you said, the way you did.

Tell me what I said.

You don’t remember?

You asked me questions and told me stories about yourself.

Fine. This conversation is no longer pleasant.

I’m asking you to tell me what you intend to write.

Just what you said.

What did I say? What did you understand?

I understood that the security branch will investigate itself.

Doesn’t the IDF investigate itself?

There’s a contradiction in what you say. You said before that they are all Shin Bet personnel…

I said they are on loan to El Al. Security-wise, it’s forbidden to say that. You can’t write it. I will call the editor of Haaretz.

Give him my love. Does it make sense to delay a Guardian reporter because she has a boyfriend named Mohammed?

I didn’t tell you anything about the boyfriend. I don’t know about the boyfriend. They will present [the results of] an investigation to me.

It’s not “them.” It’s you.

Yes. The security branch will investigate.

Are they El Al employees? Does their salary slip come from El Al?

I don’t know. I have to check. Write that it’s El Al. Write that El Al did it.

Okay. For sure.

Tell me what else you are writing in my name.

Nothing will be written that you didn’t say. I don’t remember it all right now.

If you don’t remember, how are you going to write it?

I will transcribe the recording.

So tell me what you are going to write.

Enough already. Talk to the editor and leave me alone.

What are you going to write in my name?

What you said. That in the end it’s people from El Al who delayed the reporter.

No problem. Write that El Al people delayed the reporter. What else will you write?

What you said.

I didn’t agree to on-the-record.

I informed you that it was on the record and I asked you to think about what you were saying. Thank you.

Not “Thank you.” What are you going to write?

What you said.

You will cite me by name, yes? Not “a source in El Al.”


I want to respond.

About what?

You dragged me into saying things that you misunderstood.

The readers are more intelligent than I, and they will understand what you said. Thank you.

I do not thank you. What are you going to write?

Mainly that in the end they were El Al people, and not Shin Bet, and that at first you tried to pin all the responsibility on the Shin Bet.

I didn’t try. They are directed by the Shin Bet, and they work for all the Israeli aviation companies.

I need to conclude.

What happened?

I need to bathe my son and put him to bed. Thank you.


Comments (6)

  • Kuhnberg says:

    The Guardian’s readership has for some time been playing the role of the disgruntled partner who wants a divorce but has no-where else to go. Sometimes they twist the recalcitrant behemoth’s arm into expressing a modicum of support for the Palestinians, only to see it revert within minutes to the mindless Corbyn-bashing of yesteryear. At other times the B goes full Starmer, only to fall back on what is now the standard pseudo-supportive critique levened by mockery. Editor K Viner, who once penned a play about the murder of Rachel Corrie by way of an Israeli tank, seems to have no problem with supporting the apartheid state, though even she can’t quite bring herself to embrace the fanatical Zionism of Ambassador Hotovely. What would it take for the paper to start calling a spade a spade rather than an act of self-determination? I don’t think reader pressure alone will do the trick; equally I don’t believe it would want to find itself out in the cold if a real sea-change were to take place in public opinion.

  • Jacob Ecclerstone says:

    Hilarious ! A lovely bit of journalism.

    Could JVL persuade Haaretz to launch a British edition, so we wouldn’t need to be distracted by the fly-blown remnants of Scott’s old paper?

  • Linda says:

    I perceive the “Guardian” as consistently peddling propaganda and putting over false messages through deliberate censorship on a number of issues of concern to me. For that reason won’t support them financially until they change track. How many thousands of “Guardian” readers have reached the same conclusions about this paper’s coverage of news? And whether it’s a paper that DESERVES any readers’ financial support?

  • Stephen Williams says:

    It’s interesting to note that Owen Jones, one of the Guardian’s more vociferous anti-Corbyn campaigners, has began to have second thoughts about Starmer, the Labour Party purge and even Palestine.
    The message seems to be beginning sinking in, helped no doubt by the dwindling paying readership, as evidenced in the speed of the Desmond Tutu response.

  • Ros Clayton says:

    Ha’aretz available on-line. Well worth the modest subscription. Some articles would not be considered printable by any UK paper for fear of upsetting the Israel lobby or attracting accusations of antisemitism.

  • Rita Craft says:

    A brilliant real exposure. Thank you to all the reporter for the so faithfully printing this astonishing conversation!

Comments are now closed.