I’m not old, but I am old enough to remember when criminal justice reform was not a popular cause in the United States. Democratic politicians, frightened at the prospect of being labeled soft on crime, embraced tough sentencing measures for victimless offenses like drug possession, often with provisions that ensured minorities would pay the heaviest price, proposed by conservative think tanks and scholars at the height of the twentieth-century crime wave.

With the present opioid crisis affecting poor and even middle class white communities in ways that call to mind the crack epidemic of the late 1980s, there has been no serious political movement to treat this problem with a ‘tough on crime’ approach. Indeed, much of the focus has been on treatment and not law enforcement. Victims of addiction are not portrayed as devilish fiends; their sudden deaths are reported as tragedies and not the inevitable consequences of criminal conduct. As terrible as it is to consider, it certainly seems that attitudes changed only after the profiles of the afflicted changed.

I was reminded of all this amidst the ongoing controversy surrounding left-leaning American Jews who’ve been confronted with questions about their political views by Israeli authorities, including the Shin Bet.

For so many years, American Jews like myself felt comfortable excoriating Israeli policy in the harshest of terms without the slightest fear of official reprisals all too familiar to some Israeli activists who travel abroad to speak out against the government. Sure, we were perturbed by the inconveniences imposed on Arab travelers and the intrusive questions posed to Jews from the former Soviet Union about the authenticity of their Jewishness. But outrage has only now reached a crescendo, with even Daniel Gordis, Michael Oren, and the editor of the Jerusalem Post criticizing the government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was compelled to issue a quasi-apology for the airport ordeal of the writer Peter Beinart.

The backgrounds of those questioned in the last several weeks – philanthropist, Berkeley-educated activist, prominent writer, celebrated novelist – are undoubtedly elite ones, as a popular Twitter commentator pointed out. While they would also without doubt be the first to say that Palestinians and others have it much worse, it is worth exploring whether the reaction to their detentions is tied to the class status of these individuals. And if it is, should it matter?

To be sure, security measures at Ben-Gurion airport are an arbitrary hassle for many people; I still clearly remember traveling to Israel for my Bar Mitzvah and watching my parents being quizzed by airport officials on the exact addresses and phone numbers of relatives. Hundreds of thousands of American Jews who have never posted a single Facebook status about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have probably been through a similar process. However, something is distinctly political in the most recent stories and I would attribute it to two causes.

First, Israel’s present government is simply more illiberal and intolerant of dissent than previous governments in recent times. Ministers like Netanyahu, Gilad Erdan, Miri Regev, and Ayelet Shaked routinely incite hatred against foreign and domestic leftist activists, including the New Israel Fund, a favorite target of the Prime Minister’s. There is no reason apart from inexplicable desperation to give them the benefit of the doubt that these directives haven’t reached the rank-and-file of the ministries they oversee.

Second, Jews from across the political spectrum are beginning to question the justifications for Israeli actions. “It was a security concern” is no longer a discussion-ender thanks to the risible broadening of the term by the likes of Regev and Erdan. Instead, the actions of Israeli security services toward civilians are increasingly scrutinized for signs of heavy-handedness and political motivation.

The case of Meyer Koplow, who was leaving Israel for the United States when he was interrogated over pamphlets and asked what he would tell others about Israel abroad, stands out as particularly unjustifiable on security grounds. Simone Zimmerman, the activist who co-founded IfNotNow, was detained crossing into Israel from the volatile Sinai region – but she was reportedly not asked a single question about her time in the Sinai, only about her anti-occupation activism (the Shin Bet maintains they did not request she be held on political grounds). The novelist Moriel Rothman-Zecher was asked about his involvement with Breaking the Silence, an organization made up of former Israeli soldiers that operates legally within Israel.

That this has happened to others of less privilege and status in the past should prompt us to examine our biased reactions to events, but it is not a reason to refrain from strong and principled reactions now. Repeating past mistakes, in this case or in the case of the opioid epidemic, for the sake of social equity is horribly senseless.

A self-confident democracy doesn’t need to ask visitors for their opinions of the Prime Minister and specific policies. Even in the unlikely event these border detentions have nothing to do with the ideological trends of the coalition government, American Jews should have never tolerated this without public protest. Needless interrogations of foreign visitors may not be the most troubling indicator of where the Netanyahu government is taking Israel (for that see the nation state law and the sordid attacks on the judiciary and civil society), but it’s perhaps one that will propel more American Jews to abandon bromides about Israel’s democracy and do their part to make sure it remains one.