Home Office denies claim that El Al passengers were detained on arrival

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Home Office denies claim that El Al passengers were detained on arrival

Lawyers have written to the airport asking for an urgent investigation into the ‘extremely worrying incident’ on Sunday night

An arrivals hall at Heathrow airport.
An arrivals hall at Heathrow airport.

Claims that passengers arriving at Heathrow Airport on an El Al flight from Tel Aviv were forced into a room and searched after an official spotted a man with an Israel flag have been flatly denied by the Home Office.

UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) have written to the airport asking for an urgent investigation into an alleged ‘extremely worrying incident’ after being contacted by a retired solicitor who was on the flight on Sunday night.

‘Singling out Jews from the rest of the passengers to go into a different place to be searched is not a good look,’ says Caroline Turner, director of UKLFI. ‘For the Jewish passengers it was reminiscent of the darkest days of the Holocaust.’

A letter, written by UKLFI to Heathrow’s chief executive officer Thomas Woldbye says: ‘The passenger felt victimised and harassed as a Jewish person and subjected to this degrading treatment simply because she was Jewish.’

The letter describes how there was no incident until all the passengers from the Tel Aviv flight reached the ‘Nothing to Declare’ channel in customs at around 10.30pm.

Quoting the complainant, the letter continues: ‘We were walking through the exit when a customs official appeared and asked a man in front of me what he had on his suitcase. The man replied an Israeli flag. Immediately the customs official started shouting, ‘Everyone on the Israeli flight, go to the room on the left.’ One traveller said, ‘why us? We are walking through with passengers coming off a flight from Doha.’

‘The official didn’t reply. Another traveller said, ‘We are Jewish, why are you doing this to us?’ The official said, ‘I am a customs officer and I can do whatever I want.’’

The customs official started shouting, ‘Everyone on the Israeli flight, go to the room on the left.’ One traveller said, ‘why us?

The passenger told the legal charity: ‘It was a horrible feeling to be shunted into another room. There were two officers in the hallways – one man and one woman. The woman also said, ‘We can do what we want.’

In the room the families, which included young children, were told to put their luggage through a machine and were then allowed to leave.

However, a Home Office spokesperson told Jewish News: “It is categorically untrue to report that passengers were detained upon arrival into Heathrow on Sunday evening. Border Force Heathrow target late night flights looking for prohibited and restricted goods as part of Border Security work, and on Sunday passengers from various flights were spoken to by Border Force Officers and had their bags X-rayed as is routine.”

The alleged incident follows a separate occasion at Manchester Airport where two Nova survivors were forced into a room and questioned after a customs officials saw they were Israeli.

There was also anger at Heathrow airport when signs were put up in Terminal 5 asking for passengers who had been in ‘Israel/ Palestinian territories’ to get in contact with the police saying ‘if you have witnessed or been a victim of terrorism, war crimes or crimes against humanity.’

Ms Turner added: ‘The customs officers behaved in a blatantly discriminatory manner when they separated out Jews and Israelis for this treatment. We will be writing to HMRC to ask them to investigate the behaviour of their customs officers.’

Journalist Shirit Gal Kedar, 52, an Israeli journalist who lives in London, went through an almost identical incident in February.

‘We were on the night flight and as we were walking through customs with our luggage somebody stopped all the passengers from the Tel Aviv flight. There quickly became a big queue of people. They then moved us into a big room with scanning machines and started opening our luggage.

‘This had never happened before and it was just really weird. People felt uneasy and when they were asked why this was happening nobody was explained.

‘It was a full flight and it quickly became clear they couldn’t cope with all of us – the room was really full and so they eventually said, ‘ok everyone can go now’.

‘As we left the room we all looked at each other and were really shocked. We were asking each other, ‘what just happened?’ Now we realise that we aren’t the only people this must have happened to.’

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: