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Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Dancer hops to it in Tel Aviv to prove he's with troupe, not terrorists

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Tuesday, September 9th 2008

BY BILL HUTCHINSON
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

Dancer Abdur-Rahim Jackson, of New York, was detained by Israeli airport security officers because of his Muslim first name, and was forced to dance to prove he was no terrorist.

He had to do a jig to prove he was not planning jihad.

A member of the famed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was forced to display his fleet-footed skills to convince Israeli airport security he was no Islamic terrorist.

New Yorker Abdur-Rahim Jackson said he was detained Sunday at the Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv because security officials were suspicious of his Muslim first name.

Jackson, 31, who is African-American, said he was grilled about his name and asked twice to dance before he was allowed to enter the country.

"It was really an embarrassing and unpleasant position to be in," Jackson said Tuesday. "To be greeted like this because of my name, it took me back a little bit."

The Manhattan-based Alvin Ailey dance troupe is in Tel Aviv to kick off a six-nation tour to celebrate its 50th anniversary season.

Jackson, a graduate of Juilliard and an eight-year veteran of the elite 30-member multicultural dance ensemble, said airport security guards separated him from the group as soon as they touched down in Tel Aviv.

"We passed the security check, and then I was approached and asked to step aside," Jackson recalled.

He said he was escorted to a separate waiting area where security guards questioned him for an hour about his first name.

"I explained to them that my father converted to Islam and gave me this name," Jackson told Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. "They repeatedly asked me what my father's name is, what my mother's name is and why they gave me this name."

Attempting to prove he is a professional dancer, Jackson handed them an Alvin Ailey brochure featuring photos of him performing.

"They saw the pictures and then one of them asked me to dance for him," Jackson said. "I was embarrassed, but I was afraid to do something wrong that may cause me to look suspicious."

Minutes after dancing for one security guard, Jackson was requested to repeat the impromptu performance for a female security guard.

"I demonstrated a few dance moves and after another clarification of the details, they released me and allowed me to join the rest of the troupe," Jackson said.

Jackson - engaged to fellow Alvin Ailey dancer Olivia Bowman, who is part Jewish - said he was not raised a Muslim.

He said he did not file a complaint, explaining, "We're only here to bring positive light to our lives and the people here."

Jackson and the Alvin Ailey group performed last night at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center.

Israeli President Shimon Peres and Tel Aviv Mayor Ronald Huldai were to attend the show.

"The incident happened two days ago. Since that time we've received a warm welcome from the people of Israel," Alvin Ailey artistic director Judith Jamison said last night.

"Tonight we had an incredible opening night to launch Ailey's 50th Anniversary International Tour. As it's Israel's 60th Anniversary - we are happy to be celebrating these landmark events together."

Security officials at Ben-Gurion airport refused to issue an apology.

The Israel Airports Authority said, "The details of the incident are unknown to us, and no corroboration was found in the investigation we conducted."

With Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

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