Barbara Boxer, AIPAC seek to codify Israel's right to discriminate against Americans14/04/2013 18:29
In order for the US to permit citizens of a foreign country to enter the US without a visa, that country must agree to certain conditions. Chief among them is reciprocity: that country must allow Americans to enter without a visa as well. There are 37 countrieswhich have been permitted entrance into America's "visa waiver" program, and all of them - all 37 - reciprocate by allowing American citizens to enter their country without a visa.
The American-Israeli Political Action Committee (Aipac) is now pushing legislation that would allow Israel to enter this program, so that Israelis can enter the US without a visa. But as JTA's Ron Kampeas reports, there is one serious impediment: Israel has a practice of routinely refusing to allow Americans of Arab ethnicity or Muslim backgrounds to enter their country or the occupied territories it controls; it also bars those who are critical of Israeli actions or supportive of Palestinian rights. Israel refuses to relinquish this discriminatory practice of exclusion toward Americans, even as it seeks to enter the US's visa-free program for the benefit of Israeli citizens.
As a result, at the behest of Aipac, Democrat Barbara Boxer, joined by Republican Roy Blunt, has introduced a bill that would provide for Israel's membership in the program while vesting it with a right that no other country in this program has: namely, the right to exclude selected Americans from this visa-free right of entrance. In other words, the bill sponsored by these American senators would exempt Israel from a requirement that applies to every other nation on the planet, for no reason other than to allow the Israeli government to engage in racial, ethnic and religious discrimination against US citizens. As Lara Friedman explained when the Senate bill was first introduced, it "takes the extraordinary step of seeking to change the current US law to create a special and unique exception for Israel in US immigration law." In sum, it is as pure and blatant an example of prioritizing the interests of the Israeli government over the rights of US citizens as one can imagine, and it's being pushed by Aipac and a cast of bipartisan senators.
Israel's religious- and ethnicity-based entrance exclusions of American citizens are so well-documented and pervasive that even the US State Department provides an official warning about it in its official travel advisory for Israel, noting:
Some US citizens holding Israeli nationality, possessing a Palestinian identity card, or of Arab or Muslim origin have experienced significant difficulties in entering or exiting Israel or the West Bank."
Friedman notes that the bill is specifically designed to protect "Israel's regular and arbitrary denial of entry to US citizens . . . in particular US citizens of Arab descent or US citizens viewed as sympathetic to the Palestinians". As the former Director of the US Office of B'Tselem, Mitchell Plitnick, explained this week, concern over Israel's discriminatory exclusions was heightened by Israel's refusal this January to allow an American teacher of Palestinian descent, Nour Joudah, to enter Israel to teach English in the West Bank despite her holding a valid visa. As Plitnick noted, "Israel, undoubtedly, is concerned that a reciprocal agreement would compromise its ability to bar not only Palestinian-Americans, but also pro-Palestinian activists, from entering the country."