I stepped up to the counter at Ben Gurion Airport and handed the young woman my Swedish passport. She eyed me up and down as she typed on her computer. I had taken that same flight, Stockholm to Tel Aviv, dozens of times, but this day was different. The clerk kept my passport and told me to take a seat in a room at the back of the hall.

Two hours later, a member of the Israeli security service interviewed me. She asked about my travel patterns, my family history, my professional and political affiliations. She even asked to see texts on my phone. After a total of four hours, I was free to enter Israel.

I have also been questioned at length while flying into Ethiopia, Germany, Morocco, Russia, Tunisia and the U.S. The inquiries each time followed a similar pattern. So I was surprised to read Peter Beinart’s recent article in the Forward complaining about his “detention” at Ben Gurion.

From what I can gather, Mr. Beinart entered the same room I did and was subjected to many of the same questions. But he concluded he was being persecuted for his political views. Few people are further apart politically than Mr. Beinart and me. He is left, I am right; he criticizes Israel, and I have worked for several pro-Israel publications. The facts point to a different conclusion: Israeli border security searches for patterns and flags that go far beyond either Mr. Beinart’s or my ego, and the profiling is much more sophisticated than any political spectrum.

To date, I have been questioned at Ben Gurion four times for up to five hours, yet this is the first time I have ever written about it. I have seen enough of the world and traveled to enough dangerous places to be able to differentiate between questioning and detention, thoroughness and threat.

A few years ago, I sat on a chair at a government office in Tehran, being questioned about my affiliations with Israel and the U.S. and asked whether I had a secret Zionist mission. It may sound similar to the questions Mr. Beinart got at Ben Gurion, but the experiences are worlds apart.

I did not argue with my Iranian interviewer, as I did his Israeli counterpart. I did not post about the experience on social media or make sarcastic jokes as I left. When they held my passport at Ben Gurion, I did not fear I would never go home. The Israeli questions about my family did not hold an eerie, underlying threat that made my mouth go dry and my legs turn to jelly.

When I am pulled aside and questioned on entering a free country, I am inconvenienced—but also grateful that the place I am visiting is sufficiently serious about border security that a white woman from the most liberal country on earth isn’t exempt. Comparing an interview to an interrogation, or implicitly equating a democracy with a dictatorship, may be an effective way of getting publicity. But it comes at the price of legitimizing and emboldening evil regimes, which can use the comparison as an excuse for further atrocities.

 

 

This article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal

This is not a political piece.

Not really. It’s more like a whole bunch of memories, strung together, and a plea for change from the change I see sweeping the nation I love.

I am a Swedish neocon, and a Jew, so I guess I am basically a unicorn. I was born and raised in a sleepy west coast town in the early 1980s, in a country an inch from being a full-blown DDR-state. I should be a socialist feminist performance artist, or a hipster filmmaker, passionate about gender-neutral daycare and sourdough bread. But I got lucky, and I broke away from the herd.

I first stepped on U.S. soil in the spring of 1990. My father had spent his high school years in Texas in the early ’60s, and now he wanted his daughter to see what he had seen and love what he loved. And boy, did I ever. I was 9.

I’m not sure if I can fully convey the cultural shock of going from 1990s Sweden to Dallas, Texas, or if it is even wise to try. Because how can I describe what it is to taste your very first doughnut or go to Toys R Us and see row after row of wonderfully girly Barbie-dolls?

I came from the country of meh to the nation of yeah. And it was nothing short of magnificent.

I was lucky enough to spend my summers there, in the heart of Texas, and with every visit I gained a growing awareness of the differences between your country and mine. America was loud. It was uncomfortable and alive. People were different, not only from Swedes, but from each other.

It was the small stuff. There were flags flown publicly, showing national pride while maintaining a strong sense of individuality. People prayed at the dinner table, and even in schools! Women were allowed to choose to be home with their kids without guilt or government penalty, and people still got married and protected the institution of the traditional family.

In America I saw all these astounding, giant, little things; and an amazing mix of rallying behind your country, while at the same time demanding its leaders to be accountable, for your rights to be respected and your voices to be heard.

I lived with my dad’s childhood friend, Jay, an old-school republican with a passion for history and politics. On my first visit he gave me a copy of the declaration of independence, patiently explaining it, word for word. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; those words jumped out at me. Not only did this document say that I should be free to chart my own course, but that happiness was a right, and a goal? That changed everything. That changed me.

Jay and I talked politics all the time, and every visit was a living lesson. He took me to the Alamo, we followed the Clinton impeachment, debated the Gulf War and stood side by side on Dealey Plaza. And I fell in love, slowly but surely. I got to know and fall in love with a nation based on certain intrinsic values, carrying a responsibility for the world, seeing freedom as a right worth living and dying for.

I went back and forth between Sweden and the U.S., between socialism and freedom, and it was like growing up not only on two sides of the world, but on two sides of history. I saw America helping change the world and saving lives while Europe engaged in knee-jerk liberal analysis and Monday-morning quarterbacking, And every time the U.S. unapologetically went its own way I smiled with pride, sleeping soundly at night knowing that just like in my bedtime stories, there was a hero out there who would always show up just in time to save the day.

But things have changed, haven’t they? In the past years I have seen the country I love so much change, moving toward the country I grew up in. I saw a President get elected on change, and apparently things had changed enough by 2012 to hand him a re-election. Well, guess what? I know the change that your president speaks of. I have lived it, and I live it still.

I know what happens when government trumps the individual, I know what it is when you apologize for the values that built your land and I have seen the horrific results of a nation equating exceptionalism with brutality and deeming values moronic and obsolete. I know one thing for sure: If you grow up in a country that doesn’t ask anything of you, you end up living an entire life without asking anything of yourself. Expecting nothing, excelling at nothing, with no repercussions for failure and no incentive for growth. And it kills your very soul.

I know, however, that there is a way back and a road forward, partially thanks to Ricochet, actually. I joined this community just a few weeks ago, after listening to the podcasts and following the posts for quite some time. Here, I see the America I fell in love with. As I sit in my kitchen here in Stockholm I giggle with delight at the living, breathing conservatism and riveting debate you all let me take part of from afar (also, I do so enjoy the occasional joke about Swedish socialists and depressing Bergman-movies).

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; I hope every single one of you get how amazing that is, in word and in meaning. To me, it captures what it is to be human, by highlighting not only our need for freedom and our right to life, but the massive capability every single person is born with. This is something no government entity can ever replace, and no well-spoken leader should ever be given the power or pulpit to question.

You are exceptional, and coming to America taught me that I could be exceptional, too.

Thank you for that. Thank you.

 

“O Master of the world, that metest out justice, look down, I pray thee, upon this innocent whom his brethren have foully murdered! Sear their hearts that joy cannot enter, and grant unto me my prayer. Suffer that I may live until a hero, a warrior mighty to avenge, be sprung from the seed of Irij. Then when I shall have beheld his face, I will go hence as it beseemeth me and the earth shall cover my body.”

Shahnameh

In a 2015 interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, President Barack Obama made his case for the nuclear deal with Iran. Despite its virulent anti-Semitism and other forms of extremism, he said, the Tehran regime “is practical, and is responsive to incentives, and shows signs of rationality,” and that this would likely lead to its compliance with the terms of the deal. He also said, in an interview with Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, that the ascension of Hassan Rouhani to the presidency, which he described as a victory over the so-called “hardliners,” opened up the possibility of a new relationship between Iran and the U.S., creating a political environment in which dreams of the future surpass grudges of the past. With a deal signed and passed, I traveled to Iran earlier this year to find out whether Obama was right.

 

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