UM President Donna Shalala detained at Israeli airport

08/07/2010 8:47 AM

08/07/2010 2:43 PM

University of Miami President Donna Shalala was detained and interrogated at Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv last month.

The former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services was visiting Israel in July as part of a delegation of university leaders from across the U.S. invited by Project Interchange, a program of the American Jewish Congress.

After the week long delegation visit from July 5-11, Shalala stayed behind for several more days to accompany a group from University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine in meetings with Israel's Bar-Ilan University.

According to a July 30 University of Miami release, Bar-Ilan is planning to create Israel's fifth medical school, in the Galilee region.

"In a series of July meetings with BIU's leadership and Israeli President Shimon Peres, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and other Israeli officials, President Shalala, Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, and a delegation of prominent UM faculty expressed their eagerness to collaborate with BIU in the development of innovative curriculum, research and clinical programs, the exchange of students, faculty and patients, and the creation of a world-class medical destination in the Galilee," the release states.

Shalala, 69, was "delayed by questions and a full luggage search that lasted almost three hours, but she didn't miss her plane," said Margot Winick, a University of Miami spokeswoman, in an email.

Shalala was asked personal questions for about two hours, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported.

Shalala was unavailable Saturday morning and university spokespersons declined to comment in detail on the incident, but released a statement from the president:

"While I was inconvenienced, Israel's security and the security of travelers is far more important," said Shalala, who is of Lebanese decent. "I have been going in and out of Israel for many years and expect to visit again."

The Yedioth Ahronoth reported officials said her last name was what triggered the security concern.

The newspaper reported that the American Jewish Congress claimed it notified the Israel Airports Authority of Shalala's VIP status before her flight, but the airports authority reported having no record on file for Shalala prior to her arrival.

The airport incident became public Wednesday during a discussion convened by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon to discuss treatment of VIPs at the airport. Those at the meeting agreed to draft a new protocol.

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