The Hill

Posted by The Hill on May 02, 2013 in News Clips

Congress is currently considering legislation (H.R. 300, H.R. 938, S. 462, S. 266) that would include Israel in the Visa Waiver Program, allowing Israeli citizens to enter the U.S. without obtaining a visa. Because countries seeking to qualify for visa waivers must provide "reciprocal privileges to citizens and nationals of the United States,” I would advise current sponsors and members considering signing on in the future to first take a hard look at the Department of State's Travel Advisory for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

According to the State Department, "U.S. citizens are advised that all persons applying for entry to Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza...may be denied entry or exit without explanation.” The advisory specifically notes that "U.S. citizens whom Israeli authorities suspect of being Arab, Middle Eastern, or Muslim origin...may face additional... and probing questioning by... authorities, or may be denied entry.”

More disturbing is the treatment of Palestinian Americans. Again, according to the State Department, "Israeli authorities might consider as Palestinian anyone who has a Palestinian identification number, was born in the West Bank or Gaza, or was born in the United States but has parents or grandparents who were born or lived in the West Bank or Gaza. Any such U.S. citizen might be required by the Government of Israel to travel to Israel using a Palestinian Authority passport [even if they do not want it]. Without the PA passport, such U.S. citizens might be barred from entry...or may face serious delays at points of entry".

For more than 35 years, we have been documenting this discriminatory treatment by Israeli authorities. We have presented the State Deparment with the complaints of hundreds of Americans of Arab descent who, upon entering Israel or the Occupied Territories, have reported being: detained for hours; forced against their will to secure a Palestinian passport; strip searched; forced to surrender property; or denied entry and forced to return to the U.S.  

Over the years, we have also complained to several secretaries of State that, by singling out Arab Americans and American Muslim, Israel is violating its treaty obligations to the U.S. In the "1951 U.S.-Israel Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation," Israel pledged to permit U.S. citizens to "travel freely, to reside at places of their choice, to enjoy liberty of conscience" and to guarantee them "the most constant protection and security". And when the State Department has failed to protect the rights of American citizens traveling to Israel, we have argued that they are failing to honor their commitment to all U.S. citizens, which appears on the opening page of every U.S. passport.

Our concern is that Israel is being allowed to determine, on its own, that Arab Americans are second-class U.S. citizens. We ask our government’s leadership to consider the implications of another country saying to an American citizen, even a second- or third-generation American, that their passport is meaningless and that they will have to secure a foreign passport before they can enter.

Some officials have been responsive. President Clinton provided me with the opportunity to directly raise the issue with a visiting Israeli Prime Minister. Secretary of State Albright and National Security Advisor Berger protested this behavior with their Israeli counterparts. And Secretary Rice issued a strong statement denouncing Israel's discriminatory treatment and affirming that "an American citizen is an American citizen.” The Israelis, however, have failed to respond.

Given this record, it is both bewildering and maddening that some in Congress now want to legitimate Israel's refusal to recognize the full citizenship of Arab Americans. Three of the pieces of visa waiver legislation being considered exempt Israel from the obligation to guarantee reciprocity for all U.S. citizens. Should Congress pass these laws, they will condone Israel's unconscionable behavior and fail in their obligation to protect the rights of all Americans.

These visa waiver measures are embedded in legislation to designate Israel as a major strategic ally, a designation which would provide extraordinary new benefits to Israel in the areas of defense, energy, trade, and intelligence cooperation. It is the responsibility of our government to protect our rights, and any foreign country that seeks to be classified as a major strategic ally should be required to respect the citizenship of every American, without regard to their ethnic or religious background.


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