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Ebola was once again Topic A on the Sunday news shows. On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace had an exchange with Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., over one of the most contentious Ebola-related issues -- whether to enact a travel ban from countries where Ebola is spreading, such as the west African nations of Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Here’s the exchange:
Wallace: "I want to talk about the threats from those countries -- the ‘hot zone’ -- to this country, because one of the big issues, of course, is this idea of a travel ban. … Congressman Murphy, this is what President Obama said this week:"
Obama: "Trying to seal off an entire region of the world, if that were even possible, could actually make the situation worse."
Wallace: "Congressman Murphy, why is the president wrong?"
Murphy: "Well, look, first of all, the president has sealed off Israel in the past, and we sealed off other areas temporarily. We can have travel restrictions until we get the rest right. And the rest is not right."
For this fact-check, we’ll focus on whether blocking travel from countries with Ebola should be because Obama "has sealed off Israel in the past."
We didn’t hear back from Murphy’s office, but the only example involving Israel that experts could recall was the two-day ban earlier this year on American airlines flying into or out of Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport. The Israel flight ban became a cause celebre earlier for conservatives such as Ted Cruz, and the comparison of the Israel ban and a possible Ebola flight ban has been the subject of comment on some conservative blogs.
That ban was in effect for parts of July 22 and July 23, in the middle of a weeks-long battle between Israel and Hamas. The Federal Aviation Administration ban was enacted after a Hamas rocket landed within a mile of the airport, prompting safety concerns for airliners flying into and out of the airport, according to news reports. (This was less than a week after a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 was shot down while flying over a war zone in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.)
As the official FAA notification about the ban put it, "At 12:15 EDT on July 22, 2014, the FAA issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) informing U.S. airlines that they are prohibited from flying to or from Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport for a period of up to 24 hours."
The notification went on to clarify that the move "applies only to U.S. operators, and has no authority over foreign airlines operating to or from the airport."
This is an important distinction. The FAA’s decision prevented U.S. carriers from flying into or out of Ben Gurion Airport -- but it did not prevent foreign-owned carriers from flying into or out of Ben Gurion, including those headed to the United States, carrying Americans or people of any other nationality.
Indeed, some supporters of Israel, such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, made a show of solidarity with Israel by flying to Ben Gurion despite the ban, using foreign carriers such as Israel’s El Al. On July 23, Bloomberg tweeted, "Safely landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv - here to show support for Israel's right to defend itself."
In other words, the Israel example was hardly a case of a country being "sealed off." The FAA did not act to stop airliners carrying Americans and foreigners flying from Israel to the United States -- only U.S. airplanes.
"U.S. citizens could still travel on international air carriers into and out of Israel during this time," said Jeffrey C. Price, a professor of aviation and aerospace science at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.
This situation isn’t comparable to what would be needed to stop air traffic from west African nations currently grappling with Ebola.
To truly keep out Ebola-infected patients from west Africa, the government would need to ban all flights originating in west Africa from landing in the United States. That’s a more all-encompassing ban than the one imposed on Israel.
If the FAA simply followed the Israeli example, foreign carriers could continue to fly passengers unimpeded into the United States, something that would defeat the purpose of an Ebola-related ban. (It’s not even clear what a U.S. flight ban might look like. According to CNN, there are no direct flights to the United States from either Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea, the three countries most heavily affected by Ebola today.)
"It’s wrong to compare what happened in Israel with what has been discussed regarding Ebola and Africa," said Henry H. Harteveldt, founder and travel industry analyst with the Atmosphere Research Group.
Separately, the United States could enforce a ban against anyone infected with Ebola. The only notable precedent for that was a ban that lasted for more than 20 years that kept travelers with H.I.V. -- the virus that causes AIDS -- from entering the country. (This ban was ended in 2009 under Obama.)
However, if that’s the kind of ban Murphy was referring to, then his on-air comparison is off-base. The AIDS ban never specifically targeted any one country, and it was implemented by President Ronald Reagan, not Obama.
Murphy said that blocking travel from countries with Ebola should be feasible because Obama "has sealed off Israel in the past."
However, the two-day air-travel ban imposed by the FAA earlier this year affected U.S.-owned carriers without halting travel into and out of Israel by foreign-owned carriers, who may have been carrying either Americans or foreigners, and who may have been flying unimpeded into U.S. airports. Comparing this to a travel ban designed to stop Ebola from leaving west Africa is a case of apples and oranges.
The claim contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, so we rate it Mostly False.
Federal Aviation Administration, "Notice to Airmen Issued for Ben Gurion International Airport" (news release), July 22, 2014
Federal Aviation Administration, "Notice to Airmen Extended for Ben Gurion International Airport" (news release), July 23, 2014
Federal Aviation Administration, "FAA Lifts Flight Restrictions for Ben Gurion International Airport" (news release), July 23, 2014
CBS News, "Bloomberg Has Strong Words For FAA Amid Ban On U.S. Flights To Israel," July 23, 2014
CBS News, "FAA lifts ban on U.S. airlines flying into and out of Israel," July 24, 2014
New York Times, "Obama Lifts a Ban on Entry Into U.S. by H.I.V.-Positive People," Oct. 30, 2009
CNN, "Malaysian plane shot down in Ukraine: What happened?" July 19, 2014
CNN, "An Ebola travel ban would be completely unprecedented -- Here's why," Oct. 18, 2014
Email interview with Jeffrey C. Price, a professor of aviation and aerospace science at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, Oct. 20, 2014
Email interview with Henry H. Harteveldt, founder and travel industry analyst with the Atmosphere Research Group, Oct. 20, 2014
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