Phyllis Chestler, a renowned Jewish author and professor was stopped at JFK Airport by suspicious TSA screeners who interrogated her and searched her bags after they saw her reading a Jewish periodical with a conservative editorial stance. While they were doing this, a Muslim woman in an Islamic head covering that hides the entire face except for her eyes was able to continue on to her destination without being detained.
NY Post Phyllis Chesler, 72, a noted academic and professor who has written extensively about anti-Semitism, honor killings and feminist issues, says the incident occurred Wednesday after her planned flight to Florida was cancelled and she began reading The Jewish Press, according to an account in that newspaper.
“Chesler noticed that as soon as she took out the paper [The Jewish Forward], one of the security agents looked at her sharply,” the Jewish Forward’s account notes.
“He came over and asked to see her newspaper. After looking at the cover, the agent then took The Jewish Press and brought it over to another security agent. The two agents then had a discussion, apparently about the newspaper and about Chesler. She was then told to open her luggage, which the agents proceeded to search,” The Jewish Forward’s account states.
It was while Chesler’s luggage was being “rifled through and she was being interrogated” that she purportedly noticed the woman wearing the niqab passing by without being stopped, The Jewish Forward’s account states.
The Jewish Forward is a weekly newspaper that describes itself as “America’s largest independent Jewish Weekly,” and it espouses a politically conservative viewpoint and editorial policy.
Chesler was let go without any charges, but a local law enforcement official said Chesler’s treatment was potentially troubling. “If this incident proves true, then it seems typical of the TSA not knowing what they are doing,” the source said.
“It’s simply TSA over-stepping their boundaries. If they had suspicions about this woman, they should have contacted local law enforcement authorities, the Port Authority Police Department, and let them handle it.”
Chesler was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn, but as an 18-year-old college student she met and wound up marrying Abdul-Kareem, a young Muslim man from a wealthy Afghan family. The union proved nearly disastrous – after moving to Afghanistan with her husband, she remained a virtual prisoner there for five months and became so ill with dysentery that she nearly died before managing to escape. That episode in her life was detailed in her memoir An American Bride in Kabul
In 2010, two women in burqas were filmed boarding a plane without going through security in an airport in Montreal: