Heathrow Airport backtracks on Palestinian flag badges

Lawyers said the badges create a ‘hostile environment for Jews’


A "Free Palestine" badge (photo: Getty Images)

Heathrow Airport has U-turned on its employees’ use of Palestinian flag badges after previously claiming that staff were allowed to use them as a signal they speak Arabic.

The backtrack comes after pro-Israel advocacy group UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) wrote to Heathrow accusing it of allowing a “hostile environment” for Jews.

Caroline Turner, a director of UKLFI, said that “any passenger seeing the security staff member wearing a Palestinian flag would assume that it was there to indicate his or her support for Palestinians, or for Hamas’s actions,” rather than to show that the employee is Arabic-speaking.

She continued: “The effect of the security staff wearing the flag is to create an intimidating, hostile and offensive environment atmosphere for Jews and Israel supporters.”

Heathrow’s service director has since confirmed that the Palestinian flag is a non-approved badge, promising to “carry out further review” and “take proactive and (if required) remedial action” to enforce this policy.

The row began on 26 May after a Jewish passenger was pulled over for a second security check by an employee wearing a Palestinian flag. The customer wrote to Heathrow, asking why staff were allowed to wear such a divisive flag.

Although the customer was told that “no nationality, religious or political items can be worn by any Heathrow staff”, communications from Heathrow suggested that the Palestinian flag was permitted as a sign the employee speaks Arabic.

This is not the first time Heathrow has come under fire for its treatment of Jews and Israelis. The Home Office is currently investigating a claim of harassment filed by UKLFI on behalf of Israeli passengers.

On 10 June, travellers arriving on an El Al flight were made to undergo secondary baggage checks after a customs officer allegedly noticed an Israeli flag on the passengers’ luggage.

The official reportedly told them: “I am a customs officer and I can do what I want”. The Israeli passengers called the treatment “degrading” and “horrible”.

Heathrow is not the only airport where Israeli customers have reported harassment.

In January, an Israeli passenger arriving at Stansted also noticed a member of staff was wearing a Palestinian flag badge. After asking to speak to a manager, he was reportedly told, “they are a private company and they are allowed to wear anything they like”.

UKLFI wrote to Stansted, arguing that this harassment of Israeli and Jewish passengers constitutes a breach of the Equality Act, but received no response.

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